Not only is breastfeeding great for babies — it’s great for moms, too! Offering you and your little one a chance to bond, breastfeeding (also known as nursing) provides other health advantages, cost savings and a certain amount of convenience. The best part is: you have options! Some moms find breastfeeding as natural as breathing, but others may find it more challenging, and that’s normal. With the right information, supplies and support, you and your baby can have a strong start to a breastfeeding experience that offers many benefits well into the future.
Bonding time — Nursing offers precious snuggle time that reassures your baby of your presence, promoting their emotional and social development and forming a bond that lasts a lifetime. The scent of your skin, rhythm of your heartbeat and even taste of your milk comforts your baby and creates a feeling of closeness. Additionally, breastfeeding releases a hormone into your own system that’s associated with feelings of empathy, affection, calmness and positive communication. These emotions help you to become the warm and attentive parent you want to be.
Healthier baby and mom — Breastfeeding is an amazing, natural source of nutrition and immune support for babies, helping to improve their health and development. It provides important nutrients, antibodies and probiotics that can help protect against asthma, allergies, eczema, diabetes, ear infections, pneumonia, gastrointestinal issues, meningitis, leukemia, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and more. Nursing has even been linked to higher IQ scores.
Breastfeeding is good for mom’s health, too. It helps with a quicker and easier recovery after giving birth, by helping the uterus return to its regular size and reducing postpartum bleeding. What’s more, hormone changes during nursing help guard against diabetes, high blood pressure, and breast and ovarian cancer. This natural process may also help you maintain strong bones, offering protection against bone fractures as you age.
Free and convenient — Breastfeeding offers an easy way to always have milk available for your baby at almost no cost. You don’t need to buy formula, bottles or feeding equipment to carry around. While a breast pump may be a good idea for times when you aren’t available to feed your baby — the cost of buying or renting a pump is likely to be a lot less than a year's supply of formula, and many insurance plans even provide reimbursement for the cost of breast pumps.
WHY NOT BREASTFEED?
Nursing is generally recommended and highly beneficial for both the babies and moms. However, there are specific situations where breastfeeding is not advised. Babies with galactosemia, a rare metabolic disorder, should not be breastfed. Moms with HIV should refrain from nursing to prevent transmitting the infection to their child. Breastfeeding is also not advised for mothers who drink alcohol excessively or use illicit drugs. In all cases, it is for you to talk to your health care provider about your individual circumstances so they can provide guidance on the best feeding options for you and your baby.
Nursing bras — A quality nursing bra can provide comfortable support for your breasts while you’re nursing. They feature front openings that can be detached with one hand while holding the baby with the other, allowing for easy access. Since your breast size fluctuates during and after pregnancy, it’s a good idea to buy a few different styles and sizes before giving birth, so you have some options. Keep the receipts so you can return the ones that don’t work!
Breast pads — Disposable or reusable breast pads are placed inside the bra cup to absorb any leaked milk between feedings. Avoid pads with plastic liners that don’t allow some airflow around your nipples, and replace them several times throughout the day to keep your nipples clean and dry. You can also use a simple folded piece of absorbent cloth as a breast pad.
Lanolin nipple cream and hot/cold packs — Lanolin can be applied directly to nipples to soothe and protect them from getting too sore. All-natural lanolin is safe for your baby, so it doesn’t need to be washed off before feedings. To relieve pain from clogged milk ducts, swelling and sore nipples, you can apply a warm compress before breastfeeding and a cool compress after.
Breast pumps — Breast pumps use gentle suction to remove breast milk from lactating mothers for bottle feeding and storage. There are three types of pumps: manual, battery-powered and electric. They can be held in place by hand or used with special bras to ensure a comfortable pumping experience. Check with your insurance provider to see if they cover buying or renting a breast pump.
Other items — Other supplies can help make nursing a little easier or more comfortable, like a nursing pillow, rocking chair or bedside bassinet. But all you really need to breastfeed successfully are you and a hungry baby.
If you choose to breastfeed and find yourself having trouble in some areas — you’re not alone! There are many resources available to you for support, encouragement and solutions to common problems.
Your healthcare provider can offer support and referrals to local support resources for help with breastfeeding. If you ever get a fever and severe soreness in one or both breasts, see your healthcare provider right away to rule out an infection.
The hospital maternity department where you gave birth likely has referral information for lactation consultants, Certified Lactation Counselors or Breastfeeding Educators. These are all people who specialize in helping breastfeeding mothers learn how to successfully breastfeed and can provide a lot of great information and tips.
If you’re wondering about how milk that is pumped can be stored for use later, there are several options:
Fresh breastmilk — You can keep freshly pumped breastmilk at room temperature for up to four hours, in the fridge for up to four days or in the freezer for up to 12 months.
Thawed breastmilk — After thawing frozen milk, you can store it at room temperature for up to two hours or in the fridge for up to 24 hours. Never refreeze thawed milk.
Unfinished milk — If your baby doesn’t finish the bottle during a feeding, discard it after two hours, otherwise it may result in bacterial growth that could cause the baby to get sick.
YOUR CHOICE IS THE RIGHT CHOICE
Breastfeeding is a very personal decision that only you and your doctor can make. What matters most is that you feel comfortable and confident in your choice. It doesn’t have to be all or nothing; you can do a combination of breastfeeding, bottle feeding formula, pumping and bottle feeding your breastmilk, and/or bottle feeding breastmilk from a reputable donor bank: a service that collects, screens, stores and distributes breastmilk from donors. (Find a reputable milk bank near you at the Human Milk Banking Association of North America.) Regardless of how you choose to nourish your baby, you deserve understanding, acceptance and support.