Breastfeeding offers a magical opportunity to develop a close, intimate bond with your new baby, and gives him the best possible start to life. Your breast milk provides all of the ingredients he needs for optimum health, growth, and development, and has plenty of benefits for you, too.
Q: What are the advantages of breastfeeding?
A: Breast milk provides a perfect start for your baby, affecting health and development on many different levels. For one thing, the composition of breast milk changes constantly, to allow for your baby’s individual growth and changing nutritional needs. Research has found that breastfed babies have fewer incidences of vomiting, diarrhea, gastroenteritis, as well as other infections and illnesses (it is especially important for premature babies to be breastfed as it strengthens their immune system). Breast milk also reduces the risk of chronic constipation, colic, and other tummy disorders, and promotes growth. There is a reduced risk of childhood diabetes in breastfed babies, and they are considerably less likely to become obese or develop heart disease in later life. Research suggests breastfeeding exclusively for six months may protect against allergies, asthma, and eczema. There is also a reduced risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome): research has found that of every 87 deaths from SIDS, only 3 took place in breastfed babies. The emotional benefits are well-documented—breastfed babies enjoy a warm, bonding, and emotional relationship with their mothers. Finally, breast milk is convenient—it’s sterile, needs no preparation, and it’s free.
Q: Should I be demand-feeding my baby?
A: In the early days, it’s a good idea to feed as often as your baby wants, simply because your body has to adjust the amount of milk produced to ensure that your baby gets what he needs. After a few weeks, you can choose to continue to feed upon demand, or set up a routine. There are benefits for both approaches, and you’ll need to decide what works best for you.

Some childcare experts believe that feeding on demand prevents any problems with milk supply, and also encourages emotional security, because you are meeting your baby’s needs as and when he needs you to—teaching him trust. It is also now believed that babies who are fed when they are hungry learn to recognize hunger “cues,” and develop a habit of eating to these cues, which is an important step in preventing obesity.

Some women, however, prefer to feed babies according to the clock—often every three or four hours. When babies cry between feeds, they are soothed, but not with milk. This can make life easier, knowing when you’ll be sitting down for a feed, and when you have a little more time. Some women don’t enjoy breastfeeding in public, and this approach means that you can schedule trips between feeds.

There’s no reason, however, why you can’t adapt things to include a little of both approaches. For example, you may wish to feed on demand throughout the day, and then wake your baby before you go to bed to fill up his tummy, and give you a little more sleep. You may also want to feed before setting out on a long journey, or to fall in with a family routine. That doesn’t mean you are ignoring his requests for food, but that you are rescheduling the feeds a little to avoid having to breastfeed at times that are less convenient.

Q: How will I know if my baby is getting enough milk?
A: This is a concern that plagues many new moms. Unlike the contents of a bottle, breasts do not supply a “set” amount of milk per feed and do, in fact, adapt constantly to provide your baby with exactly the right amount she needs, according to her demands. There is an element of trust necessary here—believing that your baby is getting what she needs. If your baby is a healthy color, putting on weight, alert and looking around when she is awake, and has regular wet and dirty diapers, she’ll be getting enough. If, after losing a little weight in the first few days (which is entirely normal), your baby puts on weight slowly but surely, all is well. Breastfed babies do tend to gain weight more slowly than their bottle-fed peers, but this is simply a natural process. Your doctor usually plots your baby’s growth on percentile charts in her Child Health Record book —talk to her if you’re worried.
Q: Will it confuse my baby to have a bottle from time to time?
A: Many breastfeeding experts believe that offering a bottle will cause “nipple confusion,” mainly because different types of sucking are involved. Sucking from a bottle requires less effort from babies, and they can quite easily become accustomed to getting milk more quickly and efficiently. However, if you can establish a successful pattern of breastfeeding over the first six weeks, your baby will develop the skills he needs to continue, and shouldn’t find it too daunting to switch back and forth. In order to keep up the supply, which is based on your baby’s demands, it’s a good idea to avoid supplementing with formula milk too often.

Q: Is it OK to drink a little alcohol if I’m breastfeeding?
A: Alcohol enters your milk in much the same way that it does your bloodstream. Within about 20 minutes of drinking, it will appear in your milk. If you are feeling tipsy, you can expect your baby to feel pretty much the same. If you do want a couple of drinks, it’s best to have them after you’ve breastfed, giving your body a chance to clear the alcohol before the next feed. No more than one or two units a week is recommended for breastfeeding moms.
Q: Is it necessary to feed from both breasts during every feed?
A: The most important thing is to ensure that your baby gets both types of milk produced by your breasts—the thirst-quenching foremilk, and the more calorific and nutritious hind milk. If your baby flits from one breast to the other, without emptying either, she may not be getting enough of the latter. In the early weeks, before the demand for your milk has been established by your baby, your breasts will overproduce quite substantially. A little baby may well be full after emptying the contents of one breast, in which case, it’s fine to stop. However, do move her on to the other breast for your next feed, to avoid becoming engorged, and to ensure that your body begins to make the correct amount of milk to meet your baby’s needs. Within a few weeks you should be producing the right amount for your baby, and she will be able to manage both breasts in a sitting.
Q: How long should my baby feed on each breast?
A: It’s obviously difficult to work out whether your baby has actually managed to get both fore- and hind milk, because you can’t see what is going on. A good feed normally lasts about 20 to 30 minutes. If he’s “snacking,” falling asleep on the breast, or losing concentration and looking around instead, he probably isn’t getting all of what he needs. It may well be that he isn’t particularly hungry, and you’ll be better off trying again later. If you are demand breastfeeding, which means feeding your baby when he is hungry rather than to a set schedule (see Brainy babies), you might need to urge him to finish a feed properly, or return to the same breast until he has emptied it.
Q: If there are allergies in my family, is it advisable to breastfeed?
A: Unfortunately, if there is allergy (such as asthma, eczema, hayfever, or food allergies) in the family, the likelihood of a baby being “atopic” (the inherited predisposition to allergies) is very high. A huge amount of research has looked at ways of minimizing the potential for “high risk” babies to develop allergies in later life, but very few factors have been shown to make any difference at all. However, there is good evidence that exclusive breastfeeding can help. Current advice is to aim to breastfeed exclusively for six months, although it seems that it is the first four months that have the biggest impact in preventing food allergies and eczema. If there is a strong family history of allergy and you aren’t able to breastfeed exclusively for this long, talk to your doctor, who may recommend that you try a special hypoallergenic milk formula.
Q: Should I wake my baby for a late night feed before I go to bed?
A: Personally, I think it’s OK to wake your baby. If you don’t get much rest, you may find it hard to be a good mother. I think there is more chance of your baby starting to sleep through to a civilized hour if woken and fed just before you go to bed.
Q: How long will expressed milk last?
A: Expressed milk will last for about four hours at room temperature and, if you refrigerate it immediately after expressing, between 24 and 48 hours. If you are taking expressed milk out with you, keep it in a cool bag with ice packs, and it should last 24 hours or so.
Q: Can I continue to breastfeed when I return to work?
A: If you have access to a breast pump at work, it may be possible to breastfeed exclusively (you’ll need to refrigerate the milk and keep it at the same, cool, temperature while you transport it home). Before you return to work, you can freeze a supply of milk—it will last about three months. You’ll obviously need to top off this supply. If you’re able to feed your baby before you go to work, immediately upon your return, and perhaps again before bedtime or during the night, it is perfectly possible to breastfeed exclusively.

Some mothers who breastfeed part-time, alongside bottle-feeding, find that their babies are reluctant to go back to the breast. However, if you can manage to offer the same feeds each day—perhaps morning and evening—your baby will get used to the routine. Your breasts will also begin to produce milk at the appropriate time.

Did you know…

that breastfeeding has benefits for you too? Women who breastfeed reduce their risk of developing breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers—by as much as 25 percent for breast cancer. The risk of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis is reduced significantly, too. It is also easier to shed pregnancy weight, because breastfeeding burns on average 300–500 calories a day.

Brainy babies

Breastfed infants develop higher IQs and have improved brain and nervous system development—to the extent that breastfeeding is considered by many as the fourth trimester. Also, the way babies suck on the breast promotes development of facial structure, enhancing speech.

Sterilizing bottles

It’s impossible to create a germ-free environment for your baby. However, warm milk is a perfect breeding ground for germs, so it’s important to sterilize the bottles and teats you use for expressed milk. In the first year, your baby will be at her most vulnerable to germs, and carefully washing bottles will not be enough.

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