Breast Feeding

Just like with pregnancy and childbirth, you have probably heard other mothers' stories about their experiences with breastfeeding and you can certainly end up feeling overwhelmed by all the information. 

Mothers have been breastfeeding their babies since the beginning of time, but that doesn’t mean the process is seamless. Emily Fishman, MD, IBCLC, Washington University neonatologist at St. Louis Children’s Hospital, encourages all mothers-to-be to learn about the importance of providing breast milk for their infants. 

“It’s not about what to buy or how to arrange your nursery, but rather how to prepare for one of the most beautiful — yet challenging — experiences you’ll encounter as a mother,” Dr. Fishman says.

"One of the most important things to do is to educate yourself about breastfeeding before the baby arrives,” says Dr. Fishman. “Be familiar with any breastfeeding resources that are available to you and take a breastfeeding class prior to your baby’s arrival. The most empowered are those who are prepared ahead of time.”

Breastfeeding is a natural gift and a process

Breastfeeding challenges aren’t uncommon in the first couple of weeks, but most of them resolve with time and a little guidance, Dr. Fishman says. “During this time, a mom will have many questions, whether it’s her first child or fourth child, as each child is unique in the breastfeeding journey," she says. "Your pediatrician or a lactation consultant can answer your questions and be a wonderful resource for you, as well as local breastfeeding support groups.”

Your body starts getting ready to breastfeed during pregnancy, as early as 16 weeks into your pregnancy. After you give birth, your body gets the final signal to make milk.

“It is best to bring your baby directly to your breast right after delivery,” Dr. Fishman adds, “ideally no longer than hour after he or she is born. Babies have an innate sense to go toward the breast and have reflexes for early suckling.”

“In the first few days after birth, your breasts make a thick, sticky, yellowish early milk called colostrum, which has the essential minerals and antibodies your baby needs for nutrition and the ability to fight infections,” Dr. Fishman adds. “Colostrum starts as drops and will slowly increase until about three to five days after birth, when you start to make mature milk."

Benefits of breast milk for mothers and their babies

Breastfeeding provides many benefits for babies and nursing parents. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for a newborn’s first six months and continued as long as parent and baby can after introducing solid foods.

“Human milk provides all the nutrients, calories and fluids needed for your baby’s health. Breast milk supports your baby’s brain development and growth and is easiest for your little one to digest,” Dr. Fishman says. “Breastfeeding continues to deliver the healthy antibodies your infant naturally received in the womb, which boosts your baby’s immunity to everything from the common cold to more serious conditions.”

Breastfeeding allows mothers’ bodies to recover from pregnancy and childbirth more quickly and lowers the risk of diabetes, hypertension, and breast and ovarian cancer. It can also help mothers to lose weight. There are also financial benefits, which can help decrease life stressors and the financial cost of paying for formula. 

 “With patience and lots of support, you will settle into the right routine,” says Dr. Fishman. “Trust yourself and know that it is worth it.”  The time you spend feeding your baby will be some of the most important moments you’ll ever spend.  

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