One of the first decisions that a mother-to-be must make is the decision as to whether or not she will breastfeed her baby. Women have breastfed their children throughout history, and it is a very natural and safe way to nourish one's child. It is, however, a very personal but important decision. The best way for a woman to determine what is best for the baby and for herself is to review all of the facts. With the proper knowledge regarding breastfeeding and what to expect, parents can make the right decision for the health of their child.
Learning to Breastfeed
Because breastfeeding is a natural act people often believe that it will come naturally and easily. Unfortunately, it isn't as instinctive as one might believe. There are, however, many useful tips that, when heeded, can make breastfeeding easier and more comfortable for mother and child. One such tip advises getting a head start by learning as much as possible about breastfeeding and what to expect before the birth of the baby. A woman may choose to do this by joining a support group for mothers and mothers-to-be, talking to friends and family who have experience breastfeeding, or by taking breastfeeding classes. Another option is to ask one's physician for a referral to a Lactation Consultant. Once the baby is born it is also advisable to start breastfeeding as soon as possible, typically within the first two hours. During this time a baby is highly alert, which may make it easier for him or her to latch onto the nipple.
Another valuable tip when learning to breastfeed is to do so every two to three hours. Babies will provide cues when they are ready to be fed by displaying certain signs that mothers should look for. Once recognized these signs will help make mothers more aware of when their babies are hungry. Some common signs include lip movements, sucking sounds, putting their fists to their mouths, or moving his or her head as if looking for a nipple. Anticipating when a baby is hungry and feeding regularly also ensures that the baby adjusts to being breastfed. Each feeding will take anywhere from fifteen to twenty minutes. Again, mothers will learn to recognize the cues that indicate when a baby is finished. To ensure that babies adjust to latching onto their mother's nipple, baby bottles and even pacifiers should be avoided. In addition, this can help avoid nipple confusion, which can make it difficult if not impossible to continue breastfeeding.
It isn't uncommon for new mothers to wonder if their children are getting enough milk while breastfeeding. Checking the baby's diapers is an easy way to determine this, as is checking baby weight. One can expect roughly six wet diapers and up to three bowel movements a day from the time a baby is three days old. For the first three months a baby should also gain up to an ounce a day. Breastfeeding isn't forever, and mothers will naturally want to know how long to continue. Organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, recommend that babies are breastfed for twelve months, with the first six of those months exclusively breast milk. Beyond a year, mothers should breastfeed for as long as she and her child desire provided that it is medically feasible.
Why Breastfeeding is Important
Breastfeeding is beneficial to both mother and baby in a number of ways. Short-term, breastfeeding benefits babies by supplying them with the right balance of valuable nutrients that they need. In addition, breast milk is easier for babies to digest, and causes less diarrhea. Breastfed babies are often a healthier weight and have reduced incidents of illness such as ear infections. Because breast milk is produced specifically for babies, the composition and volume changes so that it provides the necessary antibodies and nutrients that infants need, when they need it. The contact that comes from breastfeeding is another benefit that has both short and long-term consequences. The skin-to-skin contact not only comforts and soothes infants, but it also creates a bond between parent and child. In terms of long-term benefits, breast milk helps protect children from cancer, both type I and type II diabetes, asthma, Celiac Disease, and allergies. Later in their lives, breastfed children may also have a reduced risk of obesity. Studies have shown that children breastfed as babies also have higher IQs.
Mothers who breastfeed are also subject to certain benefits as well. For example, their risks of type II diabetes, ovarian and breast cancer are lowered. In addition to bonding with their child, women who breastfeed may find it easier to lose excess pregnancy weight. Economically, it costs less to breastfeed infants than it does to purchase formula, which is of benefit to both parents. Because children who breastfeed are less likely to be sick, it is also a positive to working mothers who require less time off from their jobs.
Pumping and Milk Storage
The ability to pump and store one's breast milk allows breastfeeding mothers a certain level of freedom that would otherwise not be possible. Once a child is three to four weeks old and accustomed to feeding from the breast, he or she may start drinking breast milk from a bottle when needed. Pumping and storing breast milk is a convenient way to ensure that it is available, even when the mother is not present. It also enables fathers to take a more active role in feeding their child while providing them with private bonding time as well. The ability to pump one's milk is also crucial for working mothers.
To start, buying a breast pump is necessary. These may be purchased at most retail stores where both manual and electric models are available. Often, women find the electric pumps ability to create and release suction to be ideal and easy to use; however, choosing the right pump is a matter of personal preference. When expressing milk, it is often necessary to pump for fifteen minutes on each breast or until the milk stops flowing. Breast milk should be pumped two to three times during an eight-hour day and stored in heavy-duty nursery bottle bags, hard plastic cups, or in bottles that are between two to three ounces. Once the milk has been placed in the appropriate container it should be marked with the date and time then refrigerated for no more than seven days. When left out in room temperature, milk should be used within eight hours. If freezing the milk, it may be stored in a deep freezer for six months at zero degrees, in a freezer drawer inside the refrigerator for two weeks, or in the freezer section of a separate freezer for up to four months. Once milk has been thawed it should not be re-frozen and can be stored in the refrigerator for more than nine hours. Whether storing milk in the freezer or the refrigerator, it should be kept in the coldest part of the refrigerator, which is the back of the unit.
Although breastfeeding is a beautiful and rewarding experience, it isn't without its challenges. Common problems that may come with breastfeeding include nipples that are sore, engorged breasts, and decreased milk supply. Some women may find breastfeeding difficult due to inverted or flat nipples. Babies who are given a bottle during the first four weeks of life may develop a nipple preference in which they prefer the faster flow of milk that comes from the nipple of a bottle. Hard, painful, and lumpy areas may form on the breasts if the milk ducts become plugged or clogged. If the plugged duct becomes infected, or if bacteria enters the breast through a sore, an infection known as mastitis may occur. This appears as a hot, hard and extremely painful area on the breast. Women with mastitis often have flu-like symptoms and a fever that exceeds 100.4 degrees. Thrush is another problem that is common for breastfeeding mothers. Thrush is a fungal infection caused by an overgrowth of yeast. This is a very painful condition in which the mother experiences itching, redness, shiny and/or flaking nipples. White patches in the baby's mouth or on his or her tongue may also indicate thrush.
Going Back to Work
For some women, staying at home to care for a baby may not be a possibility or a desire. For women who are returning to the workplace, breastfeeding will require preparation, but remains a possibility courtesy of breast pumping. This is true for any woman with a busy schedule, such as women returning to school after giving birth. When returning to work it is important to talk with one's employers about the need to continue pumping one's breasts. While this may seem overly personal, there are laws that require that certain employers accommodate breastfeeding women. In the event that an employer does not fall within that category, discuss the need for breaks in order to express milk at various times throughout the day. Ensure that there is a place, other than a bathroom where this can be done, and that there is proper refrigeration in which to store the milk. If no refrigerator is present, it may be necessary to carry a cooler that is insulated and will keep the milk cool. While at work, wear nursing pads to protect against leaking and bring a light sweater or suit jacket to conceal any leak stains in the event that the pads are not sufficient. Before heading to work, breast feed the baby and breast feed him or her after work.
As previously noted, there is a law in place to ensure that women are given the time needed to express their milk while working. This law applies to companies with fifty or more employees. Not only is the employer required to allow sufficient time, but the employee must be given a private location other than a restroom in which she can pump her milk. The law, which was signed by President Obama, amends the Fair Labor Standards Act.
Laws regarding public breastfeeding can be found in most states across the U.S. Many of these laws protect a woman's right to breastfeed. There are several states, such as West Virginia, which provide no laws to protect a woman's right to breastfeed in public, and other states which simply exempt breastfeeding from public indecency laws. Women who are breastfeeding should check the laws in their state to ensure that they are treated accordingly when feeding their baby in a public location.