Breastfeeding is when you feed your baby breast milk, usually directly from your breast. It’s also called nursing. Making the decision to breastfeed is a personal matter. It’s also one that’s likely to draw opinions from friends and family.
Many medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, strongly recommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for 6 months. After the introduction of other foods, it recommends continuing to breastfeed through the baby’s first year of life.
How often you should breastfeed your baby depends on whether your baby prefers small, frequent meals or longer feedings. This will change as your baby grows. Newborns often want to feed every 2-3 hours. By 2 months, feeding every 3-4 hours is common, and by six months, most babies feed every 4-5 hours.
You and your baby are unique, and the decision to breastfeed is up to you.
Signs Your Baby is Hungry
One of the most common ways your baby will let you know they’re hungry is to cry. Other signs your baby is ready to be fed include:
- Licking their lips or sticking out their tongue
- Rooting, which is moving their jaw, mouth, or head to look for your breast
- Putting their hand in their mouth
- Opening their mouth
- Sucking on things
Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Baby
1: Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of Vitamins, Protein, and Fat — everything your baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula.
2: Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having Asthma or Allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
3: Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. What’s more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It’s been thought to lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers as well, but more research is needed.
Breastfeeding Benefits for the Mother
Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. There are continued benefits from breastfeeding beyond 1 year, and up to 2 years especially in the mother. Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may lower your risk of osteoporosis, too.
Since you don’t have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples, or warm bottles, it saves you time and money. It also gives you regular time to relax quietly with your newborn as you bond.
Will You Make Enough Milk to Breastfeed?
The first few days after birth, your breasts make an ideal “first milk.” It’s called colostrum. Colostrum is thick, yellowish, and there’s not a lot of it, but there’s plenty to meet your baby’s nutritional needs. Colostrum helps a newborn’s digestive tract develop and prepare itself to digest breast milk.
Colostrum is the first phase of breast milk, which changes over time to give your baby the nutrition they need as they grow. The second phase is called transitional milk. You make this as your colostrum is gradually replaced with the third phase of breast milk, called mature milk.
You’ll start to make transitional milk a few days after birth. By 10 to 15 days after birth, you’ll make mature milk, which gives your baby all the nutrition they need.
Most babies lose a small amount of weight in the first 3 to 5 days after birth. This is unrelated to breastfeeding.
As your baby needs more milk and nurses more, your breasts respond by making more milk. Experts recommend trying to breastfeed exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for 6 months. If you supplement with formula, your breasts might make less milk.
Even if you breastfeed less than the recommended 6 months, it’s better to breastfeed for a short time than no time at all. You can add solid food at 6 months but also continue to breastfeed if you want to keep producing milk.
Is your baby getting enough milk?
Many breastfeeding moms wonder whether their babies get enough milk for good nutrition. If your baby is getting enough breastmilk they should:
- Not lose more than 7% of their birth weight in the first few days after delivery
- Seem content for about 1-3 hours between feedings
- Have at least 6 diapers a day wet with very pale or clear pee by the time they are 7-10 days old