Breast milk is considered as the gold standard of nutrition for a new born.
It is packed with nutrients and has numerous benefits for your baby and you. Various Nutrition Health Department recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to or over the age of six months. In comparison to formula feeding breast milk is more appropriate for your baby as it is balanced in it’s nutrients and minerals content along with probiotics, IgA and IgB immune protective factors which provide long term immunity.
Breastmilk is the most sterile form of nutrition available to a new born. Studies show that children who are initially breastfed have a better immune system than those who are formula fed. Breast milk decreases the risk of developing certain chronic ailments. A study carried out in New Zealand showed that exclusive breastfeeding led to a significant decrease in asthma in children aged 2-6 years.
Breastfeeding also has health benefits for you as a lactating mother. It reduces the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It helps to build a strong nurturing bond between you and your baby. It is cost effective as compared to buying infant formula and lastly, it helps you naturally use up to 500 calories per day because you are breastfeeding your little one!
Some of the reasons why mothers tend to stop breastfeeding are because of fatigue and uneasiness. If such a situation does occur, you must seek advice from the women in your family, friends or the nearest health clinic. Being able to find solutions to any problem that you face is important because if you can breastfeed your baby up to six months of their birth then you are providing them with the best possible start to life.
Things to keep in mind while breastfeeding-
- Try keeping your blood sugar levels stable to avoid mood swings, sugar cravings and energy imbalance. The process of breastfeeding uses energy, so you should try and eat more protein and complex carbohydrates compared to sugar dense foods such as cakes and candies.
- When exclusively breastfeeding; an extra 300-500 calories per day should be added to your diet so that there is sufficient milk production for your baby.
- Drink enough water (atleast 4L daily). If you are dehydrated, the breast milk will contain less water and can make the baby dehydrated or constipated.
- Try to avoid caffeinated drinks (tea and coffee) and alcohol. All these can cross into the breast milk and affect the baby.
- If you smoke, you should stop or avoid smoking as there is a alkaloid called nicotine which can also enter the breast milk. Babies who are exposed to cigarette smoke have a higher chance of developing sinus infection, pneumonia and ear infection. They are also seven times more likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Although, breast milk is the most optimal nutrition for an infant, weaning could start after 6 months, process when solid foods are introduced. It is a very important step in the baby’s development and changes should be made slowly. Initially foods that are mashed and soft (such as cooked carrots, parsnips, yams, sweet potatoes, apple, pears) should be introduced (6-8 months). Once they are able to digest that you can try more complex foods such as soft meats, pasta and dairy (8-10 months).
In certain situations breastfeeding is not recommended, for example-if the baby is suffering from galactosemia- a condition where the infant is unable to break down galactose present in milk. In these scenarios, bottle-feeding is the best option and a doctor must be consulted.
Breast milk certainly provides the most optimal nutrition for a baby, however, if formula feeding is the path chosen, then iron-fortified formula is recommended after consultation with your doctor.