Newborns Breastfeeding

Ask most women about their experience with breastfeeding a baby and the response is overwhelmingly positive. “It was such a great experience,” they reply, and a sentimental flush comes over them. As with any female mammal, women are blessed with the ability to feed and nourish their offspring by cuddling them to the breast. This loving act provides a safe place for the baby as well as important nutritional benefits.

Benefits for Mom: Oxytocin and Prolactin

For the mother, breastfeeding is a time to relax and bond with her baby. While the baby is breastfeeding, the mother’s body releases two important hormones: oxytocin and prolactin.

Oxytocin has important effects on both the breasts and the uterus. In the breasts, oxytocin stimulates muscle cells to help propel milk out of the breasts and into the nursing baby’s mouth. During childbirth and just after, oxytocin is responsible for causing the uterus to contract. These uterine contractions help to deliver the baby, the placenta and, later, to shrink the uterus back to its normal size. Prolactin is the hormone that stimulates milk production.

Other changes occur during breastfeeding. The body is signaled to delay menstruation and ovulation. As the baby draws calories from the mother, the mother loses some of her pregnancy weight. Breastfeeding may also counter some of the effects of postpartum depression.

Formula-Fed Babies

In the sixties and seventies, as more women left the home to work, the trend of feeding babies with infant formula began. Breastfeeding became a thing of the past as ads touted the great benefits of formula. Consumers assumed that the scientifically prepared infant formula was far more nutritious than the breast milk the mother could provide.

However, the infant formula trend soon lost its steam as infant mortality rates began to climb. The number of malnourished infants increased as a result of inadequately mixed formulas. Infant infections were on the rise due to poor bottle washing techniques or inferior water sources. The medical community urged mothers to begin breastfeeding again to save their babies.

Infant Nutrition: What’s in Breast Milk?

What makes breastfeeding the ideal form of infant nutrition? One of the main benefits of breast milk is its high content of whey protein. Whey protein is an easily digestible energy source. Breast milk also contains balanced levels of calcium and phosphorus to maintain a proper pH in the baby’s stools and intestines. This pH balance prevents the growth of infectious bacteria that can cause diarrhea or constipation.

Another energy source provided by breast milk is lactose. Breast milk contains the highest level of lactose of any milk product.

Nutrition Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that a mother breastfeed her baby exclusively for six months. Breast milk contains the mother’s antibodies and delivers them directly to the baby to help prevent common childhood colds and infections.

Breastfed babies receive optimal nutrition for proper growth and development over any other diet because breast milk contains the vitamins and minerals necessary for babies to grow. Some physicians recommend vitamin drops with A, C and D to supplement the breastfed baby. Breast milk is a great source of vitamin E, an antioxidant that helps to prevent anemia by prolonging the life of red blood cells.

Resources

American Academy of Family Physicians. (updated 2003). Breast feeding: Hints to help you get off to a good start.

American Academy of Pediatrics. (updated 2004). A woman’s guide to breastfeeding.

Briefel, R.R., Reidy, K., Karwe, V.,