Breastfeeding Guide:How long should you breastfeed? When to breastfeed?


Introduction to Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding means feeding your newborn baby breast milk. It is one of the most important ways to ensure that your baby stays healthy and has a chance at survival. While as much as 2 out of every three children do not get to experience exclusive breastfeeding for the recommended time, it is still highly recommended for mothers to try their best to do it for their baby’s sake.

Why is breastfeeding important? 

Breastfeeding has many health benefits, which is not only for the child but also for the mother. 

For the mother: It creates that first-time bond between mother and baby and fuels that sense of fulfilment most mothers feel just after childbirth. Usually, after your baby arrives and you start breastfeeding it, your body releases the following hormones:

Prolactin ensures that you feel that nurturing, peaceful sensation that helps you relax and focus on your child.

– Oxytocin – which creates that sense of love and connection between mother and child.

These are some of the other health benefits of breastfeeding for a mother: 

  • Quick recovery from childbirth: the hormone oxytocin releases as a mother are breastfeeding her baby. It helps slow down post-partum bleeding and aids the uterus to return to its regular size quickly.
  • Reduced likelihood of cancer: Studies have shown that as you breastfeed your child, your chances of being sick with breast cancer or even ovarian cancer are likely to be less. 
  • An unlikely contraceptive: Breastfeeding is an actual form of contraceptive for mothers who desire family planning. Studies show that a mother engaging in exclusive breastfeeding will experience a delayed return to menstruation and help extend the time between pregnancies. 
  • Breastfeeding also reduces the mother’s risk of exposure to cardiovascular diseases, rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes. 
  • Breastfeeding is also a cheaper milk source for your baby, unlike infant formulas that cost a decent amount of money and even have their health risks attached. 

For the baby: these are some of the benefits of breastfeeding and breast milk for your baby:

  • Breast milk has everything your baby needs to grow, especially in those early stages of their lives. It contains essential vitamins, fat, and protein important to your baby’s physical and mental development. Well-breastfed children are also more likely to experience the right amount of physical growth and avoid being overweight. 
  • Breast milk has antibodies that, when taken, will help your baby fight diseases and illness. It is essential for babies as they mostly have immature immune systems. The first milk your baby receives usually contains colostrum which in turn has high amounts of immunoglobulin A. Immunoglobulin A helps create a protective layer around your baby’s digestive system, nose and throat, which helps to protect it and keep it healthy. 
  • Breast milk will help reduce your baby’s exposure to asthma and general allergies. 
  • Babies who enjoy exclusive breastfeeding of six months or more have been shown to experience fewer bouts of respiratory diseases, ear infections and diarrhoea. 
  • And, yeah, breastfeeding your child makes them smarter. They are also less likely to develop learning difficulties or acute behavioural problems as they grow. 

So, when should you start breastfeeding your baby?

Breastfeeding must start immediately. UNICEF says that to give your child the best chance at survival and development, you should begin breastfeeding within an hour after birth. 

This will help develop your baby’s full potential. This sentiment is echoed by the World Health Organization, which also recommends immediate skin to skin contact between mother and baby after the baby is born. This skin to skin contact will initiate early bonding and a strong connection between mother and child and, in most cases, will result in less crying from the baby.

These are some of the other reasons why breastfeeding your baby that early is important:

– It will drastically improve your confidence as a mother, knowing that you can breastfeed your child and provide it with the nutritional protection it needs for life.

– It will help stimulate your baby’s bowels and digestion muscles. 

– The nutritional benefits of colostrum kick in immediately, and your baby’s immune system begins its journey to full strength.

– Some babies are known to have difficulties with sucking, and if you can establish breastfeeding at that early stage, it will help your baby develop a proper feeding habit. 

Babies delivered through the caesarean section: some unique challenges come with delivery by caesarean section, especially when it comes to breastfeeding. 

Breastfeeding is likely to occur while you are still in the recovery room or even the operating room. But, as much as possible, it is still important to keep to the early breastfeeding within the first hour of birth. 

If you have been administered a general or epidural anaesthetic, your baby’s feeding behaviour may be affected. 

It is important to ensure that hospital staff are present during breastfeeding if given intravenous drugs.

What if your baby refuses to latch on?

Your baby may refuse to latch on to the breast in those early moments. If this is the case, get a teaspoon or cup, pour out the colostrum and try feeding it directly to the baby. Chances are this will instigate the baby to seek out the breast then and allow you to breastfeed it. 

Also, try stroking it gently on the legs and abdomen for some time. 

Finally, maintain as much skin to skin contact as possible. This has been shown to help develop and strengthen mother to child bond that aids feeding behaviour. 

Using dummies and bottles

Some mothers resort to using dummies and feeding bottles to feed their babies. Well, studies have shown that this is not particularly healthy, especially in those early days. 

As much as possible, avoid using them. They are likely to result in your baby refusing your breast in the near future, not to mention they could also cause breast inflammation and engorgement. Try as much as you can to enforce exclusive breastfeeding. It will result in healthy sucking by the baby, which in itself is vital for milk production. 

How long should you breastfeed?

 The American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of their lives. It means that you must feed them nothing else but breast milk, no formulas, no other drinks or food for that first half a year of their lives. 

After the first six months, the WHO recommends that mothers continue breastfeeding for the next six months, but they can combine breastfeeding with other recommended foods by relevant health experts.

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