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How long should I breastfeed?

Babies were born to breastfeed.  It is not just best; it is normal.  Anything other than human breast milk has known and well-documented risks and harms that don’t just last while a baby is nursing but can pervade throughout a person’s life.  For example, scientific research continues to show that formula-fed babies get sick more often and more severely than their breastfeeding counterparts.  Babies who are sustained on formula have higher instances of asthma, ear infections, allergies, diabetes, obesity, childhood cancers, respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, and Multiple Sclerosis, to name a few.  Mothers who don’t breastfeed their babies have higher rates of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers, retain their baby weight longer, have higher rates of anemia and diabetes, and see an immediate return to menses without sustaining the luxury of natural contraception through breastfeeding (LAM).

Armed with this information, moms who may not have been inclined to breastfeed may decide to try and mothers who were only going to breastfeeding for a couple months may decide to nurse longer. That is wonderful!  But how long should you nurse your child?  What is necessary to garner these benefits and when is breast milk no longer beneficial to your baby?

The World Health Organization states the following:

Breastfeeding is the normal way of providing young infants with the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development.  Virtually all mothers can breastfeed, provided they have accurate information, and the support of their family, the health care system and society at large…Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond. 1

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends, “exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months of a baby’s life, followed by breastfeeding in combination with the introduction of complementary foods until at least 12 months of age, and continuation of breastfeeding for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.” 2

Great Britain recommends exclusive breastfeeding, “for around the first six months of a baby’s life.  After this, breastfeed alongside other foods for as long as you and your baby wish. This might be into their second year or beyond.” 3

The Public Health Association of Australia recommends breastfeeding according to WHO guidelines, as do most countries around the world.

So, how long should you breastfeed your baby?

Ideally, you would nurse exclusively for the first six months and continue alongside solids for at least the first two years of life.  Then carry on as long as you and your child are happy with your breastfeeding relationship; even considering allowing your child to wean gradually on his own timing.  If left to make the decision on their own (without cultural and sociological factors influencing a child) babies typically self-wean between the ages of 2 ½ – 7, with most being between ages 3-4. 4  This is not always the message women hear in the Western world though!

Breast milk is always beneficial to your baby no matter how long you nurse.  Even toddlers, especially toddlers, need the immunological properties to help fight off all the germs and bacteria that is going in their mouth from toys and playing and that they are contacting daily. Their immature immune systems need mother’s milk to help them fight these bacteria!  Breast milk continues to benefit your child every time she receives it, and there is no age limit for these benefits.

When and how to wean your child are personal decisions.  Being informed about the benefits of breast milk, optimum feeding practices, worldwide health association recommendations for breastfeeding, and listening to you and your baby’s needs are all important pieces to consider.  In the end, weaning because of pressure from family, friends or society as a whole is usually not going to bring a big fanfare for your decision, or a sense a peace and closure to you if everything had been going well but you felt societal pressure to begin the weaning process. As you are pregnant and thinking about breastfeeding, it can be a huge stress reliever and quite relaxing to follow your baby’s breastfeeding cues and make a conscience decision to find joy in this phase of your life and not rush it long.  Get excellent lactation support in the beginning to help get nursing off to a great start, and then follow your heart and your baby’s needs and see where it takes you in your breastfeeding journey.  You may even want to join the ranks of other moms nursing toddlers and be a part of changing our western culture’s idea of breastfeeding duration.  Whatever you choose to do, arm yourself with information and make the decision that is best for you and your baby!


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Skin to Skin Contact

Jack is Born at Heath Hospital

Skin-to-skin contact, when possible, is important for getting breastfeeding off to a good start.

Skin-to-skin contact (SSC) following birth is incredibly important for all babies, including preterm babies.  It is easy to do – a mother simply holds her baby with his stomach down (prone position) against the front-side of her chest between her breasts, neither with clothes between them.  A blanket can be placed on the outside of the baby while he is wearing a diaper and/or a hat.  Ideally, SSC should begin immediately following birth and last through the first breastfeed – or for the first 1 ½ – 2 hours following birth. The results are amazing!

A new baby has just come from the safest place he’s known – inside his mother’s womb.  There, he has been cared for completely having every need met immediately.  He was protected, hearing gentle noises buffered by the womb; his heart rate and oxygen saturation levels were optimal; he was held, warm, fed, and loved on demand.  After birth, this same baby has entered a whole new world and the safety of being skin-to-skin against his mother’s body helps him in this transition.

Today the over-medicalization of the birthing process many times leads to the separation of mother and baby following birth.  Lights are bright, sounds are loud and unfamiliar, scales are cold, and the person he knows best, his mother, is not always nearby.  Research shows this separation of mother and baby is highly stressful and can lead to what is known as “protest despair” in baby.  When babies are separated following birth, babies exhibit a ten-fold increase in stress hormone levels.1  This stress should not be underestimated either!  The baby will protest by crying. His heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing will increase.  After protesting, he will despair, moving to a state of dissociation.  Left in this state of distress, away from his mother, can have lasting emotional effects. And maternal levels of oxytocin (which is often referred to as the love hormone and significantly impacts bonding) peak following birth. When mom and baby can’t be together, precious bonding time is lost in their relationship.

SSC is a safe and simple alternative to separation following birth.  In fact, babies’ body temperatures are better regulated in SSC than in an incubator; heart rates are more stabilized; cortisol and blood glucose levels are more normalized; and there are greater chances for breastfeeding success . . . not to mention the precious time of cuddling and bonding together.   For mothers, SSC not only helps to regulate her body temperature, but heightens oxytocin levels and milk volume, promotes bonding , and increases confidence in her mothering ability.2 Babies who are placed in SSC following birth are much more likely to spontaneously breastfeed than those who are not.

SSC was first used in Colombia, South America in the 1980s for babies in the NICU when there wasn’t space available in conventional incubators.  Compared to babies cared for in environments with greater technology, the babies receiving skin-to-skin contact each day fared much better.3  Research on SSC and twins has found that each breast uniquely regulates its temperature depending on what each baby needs.  If one baby was too cool, the breast temperature on that side would increase; if the other baby was too hot, that breast would decrease in temperature.4  SSC after birth has also been shown to significantly increase the survival rate of babies who are born with very low birth weights.5

In addition to its many positive benefits immediately following birth, SSC continues to have a positive impact on breastfeeding in the early weeks and months with your new baby.  SSC continues to promote bonding between mother and baby, helps baby to latch, increases a mother’s milk supply, and can even help a baby who is refusing the breast to begin to nurse.  The benefits of SSC are increased, the longer and/or more frequently a baby is held this way.

The first hours after birth are critical to bonding with your new baby and can never be returned.  All necessary interventions in a healthy newborn can be done while baby is skin-to-skin with his mother.  Bathing, weighing, etc. can all wait until later.  Postpone all non-essential things and relax and enjoy this precious time with your new little blessing.


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Benefits of Colostrum

DSC_1280After giving birth, a mother’s milk is very thick, rich, and in small quantities for the first 2-5 days.  This milk is the world’s most amazing super food – colostrum.  Unable to be replicated in any laboratory, it gives babies antibodies and immune system boosting cells.  It is perfectly created for babies and helps their immature intestinal system to function effectively.  Breastfeeding often and on demand ensures that babies have plenty of stools, which helps to prevent jaundice.

A newborn baby’s stomach is only the size of a small marble.  Filling it with anything other than the richest, most perfect super food will prevent him from eating the amount of colostrum his body needs.  The thick texture causes a slower flow from the breast, a perfect primer in how to breastfeed effectively allowing him time to practice sucking, swallowing, and breathing in rhythm before a mother’s milk begins to flow stronger. It is also rich and filling, exactly what is needed in small amounts during the first few days of life.

The protective qualities in colostrum are better than any vaccination and make it difficult for bacteria and allergens to attack a baby’s body.  Even if a mother does not want to continue to breastfeed her baby, giving colostrum over the first week of life has tremendous, positive health implications.


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Pitfalls of Infant Formula

Though there are many articles about the benefits of breastfeeding for babies, benefits for mothersuniqueness of breast milk, the importance of colostrum, and the amazing antibodies in breast milk it is also important to talk about the pitfalls of infant formula.

Here are 20 known and documented adverse health implications from infant formula:

    1. Cognitive Development
      Formula-fed infants have less advanced cognitive development.1 Preterm babies given formula have decreased cognitive abilities at five years of age.2
    2. IQ
      Formula-fed infants have lower mental development scores throughout adolescence, by as much as 10 points.3  4
    3. SIDS
      Formula feeding increases a baby’s risks of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.5
    4. Allergies & Eczema
      Formula-fed infants have higher rates of allergic disease.6
    5. Asthma
      Babies who receive formula before 2 months of age have a four-fold increase than babies who are breastfed for at least four months.7
    6. Ear Infections
      Formula fed babies have 75% increase in incidence of otitis media (ear infections).8
    7. Respiratory Infections
      Formula-fed infants have higher rates of bronchitis, croup, and pneumonia.9
    8. Infectious Disease
      Formula feeding is associated with higher incidences of infectious diseases (including diarrhea, sepsis, and pneumonia) and hospitalizations for illnesses.10
    9. Necrotizing Enterocolitis
      Formula-feeding is associated with significantly higher rates of NEC.11 NEC is a serious illness that can be fatal, especially in premature infants.
    10. Gastrointestinal Illness
      Children and adults who were formula-fed have greater incidences of Chrohn’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcerative colitis, Celiac Disease, and other GI issues.12  Given that breast milk is essential for the proper development of a baby’s immature intestinal mucosa, it makes sense that coating his system with anything other than breast milk before his body is ready can cause gastrointestinal distress.
    11. Harmful bacteria
      Exclusively formula-fed babies are more likely to be colonized with pathogenic bacteria such as E-coli, Candida, and Clostridium.13
    12. Gross Motor Coordination
      Formula-fed infants are more likely to have gross motor coordination delays than babies who were exclusively breastfed at least four months.14
    13. Obesity
      Children who are formula-fed have increased rates of obesity throughout their lifetimes.15  This could be because breastfeeding has a cell programming effect in reducing overweight conditions, which formula-fed infants miss out on.  Formula-fed babies have higher insulin concentrations in their plasma which can begin fat deposition in the body at an early age. And breast milk contains the hormone leptin (which is not in formula) that helps regulate body weight.
    14. Diabetes
      Breastfeeding is protective against both Type I and Type II diabetes. Diabetes rates are higher among children and adults who were formula-fed.16
    15. Cancer
      Risks for several childhood cancers are greatly increased in formula-fed children: lymphoma, leukemia, and Hodgkin’s disease.17  Researchers have identified alpha-lactalbumin, a protein in breast milk, which causes the death of abnormal cells.  This human milk protein does not exist in formula.
    16. Diarrhea and Vomiting
      One of the leading causes of infant deaths around the world, the incidence of diarrheal disease is greatly increased in formula-fed infants. Exclusive breastfeeding for at least four months is highly protective.18
    17. Multiple Sclerosis
      The strongest link to MS is a person’s diet, especially in fatty acids.  Breast milk has the perfect makeup of essential fatty acids for humans and has not been replicated in formula.  In fact, formula destabilizes the normal development of myelin. There are higher incidences of MS in children and adults who were formula-fed.19
    18. Immunizations
      Children who are formula-fed show lower antibody responses to vaccines.  In fact, some formula-fed children show no antibody levels at all.20
    19. Neurotoxins
      Formula has much higher levels of manganese than breast milk and many times also contains MSG, toxic lead and silicon levels, nitrites, GMOs, and more. Formula is not sterile and has been recalled many times over the years.21
    20. Schizophrenia
      Exclusive formula-feeding, or breastfeeding less than two weeks, has been shown to be associated with an elevated risk of developing schizophrenia.22

 

{Note from Nursing Nurture:  One of the most controversial parenting topics is breastfeeding vs. formula feeding. Women love to hear the benefits of breastfeeding but if something is stated in the reverse it can cause great dissension. Mothers become polarized.  Some vehemently stand up for breastfeeding benefits while others say they “hate” the messenger.  

This article is not intended to upset mothers who formula-feed.  Nor is it meant to hurt them or make them feel guilty

Rather it is to help mothers have all the information and be able to make an informed decision.  Health care providers do not provide all of the negative impacts of formula and many mothers lament the fact that they were never told of the long-term, negative health implications for both mothers and babies from formula. Ultimately, all mothers must make what they feel to be the best decision for their situation.

Some mothers, when given all the information, will choose to breastfeed when they normally would not have.  Still others will persevere to find good lactation support, in spite of a health care system set up to fail those who need this additional help.  And, most importantly, understanding the pitfalls of formula may resonate so strongly with some breastfeeding mothers that they may choose to donate their breast milk.  By doing this, a day could come when no baby whose mother truly can’t produce enough milk is faced with having to give her child formula.}


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Breastfeeding Benefits for Baby

Breastfeeding provides many benefits for your baby.  Here’s 17 great reasons why breastfeeding your baby gives the best start in life.

  1. Increased gastrointestinal health
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    Breast milk provides the perfect coating for a baby’s immature intestinal tract while he grows and develops and prepares for complementary foods later in the first year of life.  His gut is quickly colonized with either good or harmful bacteria and a breastfed baby’s gut is colonized differently than a formula-fed baby’s.Breast milk helps to promote a good digestive and immune system, while controlling pH and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria (such as candida and E. coli).  Breastfeeding also helps protect baby from such things as Celiac Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
  2. Increased IQ
    Exclusive or early introduction of formula-feeding reduces a child’s total IQ as well as verbal IQ and performance IQ.  In preterm babies, formula-feeding means an additional 8.3 point deficit in IQ. 1
  3. Increases bond with mother
    Breastfeeding allows for the bond between mother and baby to thrive.  Babies are held and cuddled for every feeding and moms are able to look into their babies eyes and dote on them. Warm cuddles at every meal by his favorite person in the world help provide safety and security for a new baby.
  4. Increased immunities
    Breastfed babies are sick less frequently and less severely.  Breast milk is a living substance with antibodies, living cells, enzymes, and hormones that protect your baby from infections and diseases he comes into contact with everyday.  Even more exciting is the fact that breastfeeding now helps protect your baby’s body from infections and diseases later in life too.
  5. Decreased rates of diabetes
    Both Type I and II diabetes rates are reduced by breastfeeding.  And though moms with diabetes are less likely to breastfeed, this is the very thing that would provide the greatest protection to her baby.
  6. Decreased infant mortality and SIDS
    Breastfed babies have lower infant mortality rates, and not just in the third world.  Breast milk is the great equalizer between rich and poor.  Breastfed babies thrive on this perfect food and are less likely to be sick, less likely to have life-threatening illnesses if they are sick, and less likely to die of SIDS.
  7. Decreased ear infections
    Breastfeeding is protective against otitis media (ear infections).  In fact, research shows that formula-fed babies have a 75% increase in incidences of otitis media! 2
  8. Decreased asthma
    Asthma rates in breastfed babies of four months or more are lower than babies who receive formula before two months of age.  Breastfeeding is statistically significant in protecting a child against asthma! 3
  9. Decreased allergies and eczema
    Formula-fed babies have a significantly higher rate of allergies and eczema. 4  Allergies are an immune system response to a foreign substance.  The body reacts to something – an ingredient in food for example – and fights it.Thus, when the body comes into contact with this “allergen” it reacts with such responses as coughing, a rash, gastrointestinal problems, etc.  The earlier formula is introduced, the greater the chances of developing allergies.  Families with a history of allergies should exclusively breastfeed for at least six months and wait to introduce common allergens such as soy, wheat, dairy, peanuts and other tree nuts, eggs, and fish.  When these are eventually introduced, giving them alongside breastfeeding is ideal.
  10. Decrease in childhood cancers
    Lymphoblastic leukemia, Wilm’s tumor, neuroblastoma, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma have all been linked to formula-feeding.  A child’s health, in general, is better through breastfeeding, and childhood cancers, in particular, are also reduced.  5
  11. Decreased chance for obesity, for life
    Obesity is a serious and growing disease in the western world.  Breast milk helps to program a baby’s body for a normal metabolism and helps to ensure the baby does not overeat (something which is easy to do with bottle-feeding).  The affects of how a baby is fed impacts him throughout life.  Breastfeeding is the best start to ensure a lifetime of healthy weight.
  12. Decreased rates of diarrhea and vomiting
    Breast milk coats the baby’s gut with healthy bacteria that protect it from diarrhea and vomiting.  And, if a breastfed baby does get sick, breast milk not only imparts immunities to help his body fight infection, it also provides liquids to fight against dehydration.
  13. Decreased rates of respiratory illness
    Babies who are given formula or solids before six months of age have a 6-times increase in pneumonia. 6
  14. Decreased risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis
    The strongest link to MS is a person’s diet, especially in essential fatty acids.  Breast milk has the perfect makeup of essential fatty acids for humans and cannot be replicated in cow’s milk formula (or any other formula).  Breast milk encourages the development of normal myelin; formula not only cannot encourage the healthy development of this, it actually destabilizes its development.
  15. Decreased dental anomalies
    Breastfeeding promotes sucking skills that help develop a proper jaw and mouth structure.  Because the nipple teat extends to the back of the mouth, milk does not pool up around the teeth.  Additionally, breast milk sugar is lactose (not sucrose – the main sugar associated with tooth decay).
  16. Decreases jaundice risk
    Exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding helps a baby to pass stools quickly and avoid or pass through jaundice more quickly than formula-feeding.
  17. Decreased healthcare costs, for life
    All of these factors contribute to a healthier baby.  And not just during the time of breastfeeding, but throughout his entire life.  Some have estimated an average cost savings of $1,000 per year over the course of a person’s life for exclusive breastfeeding for six months with complementary foods introduced alongside breastfeeding for the first year.

Mother Bottle Feeding Her Baby

Feeling Guilty for Not Breastfeeding

Mother Bottle Feeding a BabyOccasionally I receive notes from mothers who were unable to breastfeed for one reason or another and they read the material about breastfeeding on Nursing Nurture and feel hurt, sad, or battered…as if they have failed in parenting.  They wonder why I would post so many documented benefits to breastfeeding and harms to alternatives since many moms have had a difficult journey and this research and information only makes them feel worse.

It is absolutely not my intention to make a mom feel less of a mom, as if she has failed, or beaten up by reading the pages of Nursing Nurture.  There are many aspects to parenting, and feeding babies is just one.  How a mom feeds her baby does not have to impact the love she has for this new life she is blessed with, the bond she is able to forge, or the completeness she feels as a mother.

At the same time, while feeding babies is only one aspect of parenting, it is important.  And there is a lot of misinformation as well as lack of information in our culture.  Most medical professionals, who should know and encourage what is best, are not trained in breastfeeding while much of their education has received funding from formula companies.  And while there truly are some women who simply cannot produce enough milk to feed their babies, this number is quite low (1-5% of the population).  The vast majority can breastfeed, with proper support!!

Breast milk and formula are not two nearly-the-same choices to feed a baby. In fact, the World Health Organization lists options for feeding babies in this order:

  1. Breastfeeding at breast
  2. Mother’s expressed milk in cup, bottle, etc.
  3. Donor breast milk
  4. Formula

Most parents want to do what is best for their baby, or as close to it as possible.  In fact, I have never met a parent that wants their child to have the fourth best option in anything – whether it’s food, sports, clothing, friendships, or something else.  Yet, everyday, moms are having to settle for fourth best when it comes to feeding their babies.  There is a systemic problem:  many medical professionals either don’t support breastfeeding or don’t know how to give good support; IBCLC Lactation Consultants are not always available in a mother’s community; our culture tells moms it is more acceptable to pay 20-fold (or more) in formula feeding costs rather than seeing a lactation consultant and making breastfeeding work; and, there is not nearly enough donated human milk when a mother truly can’t breastfeed.

It seems to me that most mothers have gotten the message that “breast is best.”  Most mothers initiate breastfeeding.  But, by 6 months when babies should still be exclusively breastfed, the vast majority (78% in America) 1 have introduced formula. What has happened?  There’s a lack of support and help for breastfeeding mothers.  Our society doesn’t value qualified lactation help enough to cover it on most insurance policies either.  And our maternity leave laws barely allow time for mom and baby to establish a breastfeeding relationship, before mom is expected to return to work full-time. So moms are left to do what is natural and normal – but not always easy – all alone. And when they fail, and feel guilty, it seems easiest to hate the messenger.

It is not my intention to hurt any mom’s feelings or make her feel defeated.  On the contrary, I value motherhood and babies so much I have a passion to share breastfeeding research and help women become informed and supported.  Mothers have a right to feel sad, hurt, or mad when they learn the true uniqueness of breast milk and just how important it is.  Women should be outraged by a system that has failed them.  They should not beat themselves up and feel guilty. . . it is not their fault they didn’t succeed at breastfeeding.  It was a failure of the system to share information to make an informed choice as well as support her with breastfeeding problems and challenges.  Who is even responsible – in our current system – to provide breastfeeding support?  The obstetricians claim it is the pediatrician’s responsibility and the pediatrician sees babies – not mothers…and especially not mothers’ nipples.  Those women lucky enough to have a midwife will at least have someone who is usually supportive of breastfeeding, though not necessarily more knowledgeable than any other breastfeeding mother.

It is my hope that if you were not able to breastfeed your child, you wouldn’t feel guilty or as less of a mom because you have read this site.  Rather, that you would feel  empowered so that if there is a “next time” you can nurse your child with success and share this information with others so they may succeed as well. Not only that, it is my hope that we as a society would value breastfeeding so much that any baby who couldn’t receive his own mother’s milk would have plenty of donor milk to drink.


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Breast Milk Antibodies

You may have heard that breast milk has living antibodies that help protect your baby from getting sick.  It’s true!  But, how does all of that work and how can you maximize the specific antibodies your baby receives?

How it works

Immunoglobulins in breast milk produce an antibody response specific to the germs and bacteria you and your baby contact.  The most famous one is sIgA, though there are several that do this amazing work. When a mother comes into contact with an antigen (whether she contacts it directly or her baby has come into contact with it and her body picks up on this from touching her baby and receiving these germs from him) her body immediately goes to work.  Cells in a mother’s body carry these invader germs to either the respiratory or intestinal tracts where her body works fast and furiously to produce IgA antibodies that are specific to exactly what she has come into contact with.  Once this antigen response has been made it travels to the mammary glands where your baby receives specific protection in the breast milk. 1  Secretory IgA lines your baby’s intestinal tract, urinary tract, and oral pharynx and helps fight these harmful pathogens.

How long does it work

When a baby is born, his immune system and gastrointestinal tract are immature.  Ideally, they will receive breast milk alone for the first six months of life, which coats, protects, and allows these systems to mature.  A newborn baby’s own IgA system is deficient and unable to make this antibody response in the beginning.  His body slowly matures and gains this ability, though it develops more slowly and great harm can be caused when foreign substances (including formula) pass through a baby’s immature system. 2 Babies need this protection from breast milk; and it cannot be replicated in formula since it is not a living, changing substance.

In short, sIgA is found in high levels in colostrum (a baby’s first milk to coat his system) and protection to your baby begins immediately upon commencing breastfeeding!  Even better, the protection doesn’t slow down during the duration of nursing.  As a mother’s body makes more milk, the dose of sIgA increases so that the level your baby receives remains constant throughout the duration of breastfeeding. 3 So no matter how long you breastfeed your baby, there will always be these amazing antibodies in your milk specific for your child.

How can I maximize protection for my baby?

In order for your body to make specific antibodies, you need to come in contact with the pathogens.  If you know your baby has been around a person who has a cold, for example, rather than washing your hands and your baby immediately following exposure, scoop your little one up, touch him, kiss him, nurse him. Make sure whatever he’s come into contact with you also touch.  Then your body will go to work and start the incredible process of making milk with antibodies specific to that pathogen.

Think about it, when your baby is small you can protect him more from many germs, but his immune system is also weaker and he needs protection from your milk.  As he grows, he begins to explore his world and put everything in his mouth.  Once he’s at play groups, nurseries, or friends’ homes, he is coming into contact with so many new pathogens every day!  He continues to need your amazing milk to help him have a quick response with specific antibodies.  His system could become tired and worn down, if his growing body is left to do it on his own. Or, if he’s still a young baby his system will be too immature to be capable of producing this immune response at all.  But together, through your breast milk and his maturing body, you make a great team providing optimum protection from sickness as he grows.

So as your baby grows and plays with other children and toys, rather than taking him straight home for a bath why don’t you spend time together cuddling and making sure your body picks up on everything he came in contact with before washing it all off?  Typically your baby will come in contact with much more than you because he plays with more and puts so much in his mouth. If you will take time to touch what he played with (perhaps while you are helping to tidy up?!) and then nurse your baby, your body will be set and immediately go to work making an immune response in your milk.

How awesome is that? Definitely another reason to breastfeed your baby!


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Breastfeeding Benefits for Mother

Here’s seven ways that breastfeeding benefits a mother’s body.

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  1. Lower rates of cancer.
    Breastfeeding reduces the rates of breast, ovarian, and endometrial cancers.  While these cancers are on the rise worldwide, research suggests lifetime estrogen exposure plays a part and breastfeeding has an ameliorating impact.The longer a woman breastfeeds, the greater the protection!1 Women with a family history of breast cancer who have ever breastfed reduce their risk by 60% of developing premenopausal breast cancer.2  Ovarian and endometrial cancers are also positively impacted by breastfeeding.
  2. Decreased chance of developing diabetes.
    Women with insulin-dependent diabetes (Type I) find their daily insulin requirements are lower while breastfeeding.3  And breastfeeding decreases a woman’s chances of developing Type II diabetes.4  Again, the longer a woman breastfeeds, the better her protection.
  3. Delay in return of menses = natural birth control and lower rates of anemia.
    Exclusive breastfeeding delays the return of menses, on average, until 6-7 months postpartum.5Known as lactational amenorrhea, this method of birth control is over 99% effective in the first six months postpartum (as long as a mother is exclusively nursing day and night, has not had a return to her menses, and her baby is under six months old).  Not only does breastfeeding provide a simple, effective, hormone-free birth control, it also decreases a woman’s risk for developing anemia.
  4. Eat more and still lose weight.
    Perhaps the best reason of all is that a woman needs 500 more calories each day while exclusively nursing and breastfeeding helps a woman’s body return to its pre-pregnancy size more quickly.  In fact, women who use formula retain more weight than women who breastfeed.6
  5. Get more sleep.
    Did you realize that moms who breastfeed actually get more sleep than their formula-feeding counterparts?  How can this be? Well, first of all, even if you aren’t giving the bottle yourself, if your baby is breastfed your body needs to get the message and you should be pumping.  If you choose to sleep during the feed and not pump your supply could begin to suffer.  Additionally, your body will probably be uncomfortably full and you may be awake with engorgement.Or, if you hear your baby cry or stir your maternal instincts will kick in and you may wake up.  Bottle feeding requires a more active state of alertness on your part as well.  You have to get up, mix the formula, and give the bottle to your baby.  Then the bottles need to be cleaned and sterilized.  Contrast this with the semi-awake state you can be in to help your baby latch onto your breast and then you fall back asleep while your baby nurses.Not only does the research show that moms who breastfeed get an average of 40 minutes more sleep each night, but the quality of sleep is also better. 7
  6. Decreases risk of Cardiovascular Disease.
    A woman’s risk for high cholesterol, hypertension, and coronary heart and artery disease are all decreased the longer she breastfeeds.8 The American Heart Association estimates that 1 in 3 women in the US have cardiovascular disease so having the protection that extended breastfeeding confers on a mother is important.
  7. It’s easy.
    Breast milk is always warm, fresh, and available.  Your body makes the perfect amount without you having to go to the kitchen to cook.  It’s organic, natural, no mess, and good for the environment.  It’s sweet like honey and your baby loves it.  In fact, your baby was created for it! And if you’re a busy mom it’s just one less thing you have to remember to get together as you pack the diaper bag.

If these reasons aren’t enough, here’s one more for you.  Many times we hear that pregnancy and lactation are hard on a woman’s bones and weaken them.  Actually, though bone loss does occur in the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, and though it continues to drop during lactation, these bone losses are reversed later in lactation and weaning.

Once a woman stops breastfeeding her bone mineral content is similar to or higher than before! Neither pregnancy, nor breastfeeding, is associated with lower bone density levels in menopause.9

So, if you are weighing the options of whether or not to breastfeed, here’s some food for thought on why you just might want to consider nursing (or continuing to nurse) your little one!

 


Breastfeeding

Uniqueness of Breast Milk

Mother breast feeding her sonThe uniqueness of breast milk is undeniable; it is an incredibly amazing and wonderful living substance!  Unable to be replicated in any laboratory, it is the “norm” for what a baby should eat.  But not only is human milk unique, all mammalian milk is specific to its kind and completely unique for its offspring.  For example, a mother polar bear’s milk has a fat content of 33% (compared to 3-5% in human milk) – perfect for a baby cub who must quickly put on weight – with an average 2100% growth rate in his first four months of life!  A mother goat and mother cow produce milk that is much higher in protein than human milk – exactly what these baby mammals need to quickly gain muscle and strength.1

Infants are born with immature immune and intestinal systems that need human milk to help them grow and mature while preparing them for food later in the first year of life.  A baby’s brain will triple in weight during the first two years so a mother’s milk is low in protein but highest of all milks in lactose – essential for appropriate brain development.  Human milk is also the only mammalian milk with higher concentrations of whey than casein – which helps a baby’s body quickly digest each serving so she will be awake sooner and ready for more cuddles and bonding that come through breastfeeding…as well as satisfying her hunger.

It seems that societies in developed countries are caught between knowledge and belief.  Everyone knows the rhetoric “Breast is Best,” yet our actions show most people don’t really believe there is much difference between formula and breast milk.  Nursing seems to be an ideal, a lofty goal, but a perfectly healthy and acceptable substitution is believed to be found in infant formula.  One need not look any farther than the CDC’s Breastfeeding Report Card which shows that while 81.1% of mothers initiated breastfeeding in 2016, only 22.3% of mothers were still exclusively breastfeeding at six months. 2

Artificial milk may be derived from a number of sources – cow’s milk, goat’s milk, soy beans or even almonds and rice. Various components are added and taken away and the milk is heated and treated to be digested by an infant. It is a very complex process to change the milk of one species (or plant!) to make it edible by another.  Not only are there multiple modes of contamination possible throughout this process (not to mention contamination that can occur later from dirty water or mixing formula for the baby), even the ingredients are so different the two substances really can’t even be compared.  Yes, both can be put in a baby’s body.  But only the norm – breast milk – was created uniquely for babies.  The variant – formula – is so vastly different that study after study consistently proves that these babies will not reach their intellectual potential.  Along with this, their physical health will suffer as a result, throughout their entire lives.

Nursing can be exhausting, difficult, and just plain hard – especially in the beginning, especially without support, especially with a preemie, an emergency c-section, a pediatrician who is not sold on breast milk, when you are surrounded with others who are not encouraging, multiples, sleep deprivation, pumping, cracked nipples, clogged ducts, a crying baby, no one to help, low supply, and so much more! But breastfeeding initiation rates are on the rise in the West.  It is not a lack of desire to breastfeed, but so many more times a lack of support, accurate information, and help.

Yes, breast milk is absolutely unique.  Yes, it is perfect for your baby.  And for mother.  Yes, it is best.  But it is also the norm.  With support and help it is something you, too, can give your precious baby!


Nursing a Toddler

How Breastfeeding Benefits Society

iStock_000020519032XSmallThat breastfeeding is healthy, saves lives, and has benefits for both mother and baby are well-known.  At the same time breastfeeding benefits society and our world in many profound ways:

  • Breastfeeding is the single greatest way to prevent childhood deaths due to illness around the world.
  • Babies who are able to begin breastfeeding within an hour after birth are more than three times as likely to survive as one breastfed a day later.
  • 830,000 childhood deaths could be prevented each year if breastfeeding were initiated for every baby following birth.1
  • Babies who are not exclusively breastfed have significantly higher rates of diarrhea, pneumonia, malnutrition, ear infections, allergies, asthma, eczema, gastrointestinal disorders, Multiple Sclerosis, childhood cancers, and much more.

And yet, worldwide, two out of every three children are not exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life.2

Did you know the formula industry is worth $25 billion?3  Imagine if that amount of money could be spent worldwide on breastfeeding.  Imagine if every woman received information about the incredible importance of breastfeeding her baby while pregnant, and then the support she needs after having her baby to successfully breastfeed.

Imagine if every healthcare worker were informed about the single greatest super-food in the world – breast milk – and helped to encourage and support women in their care not to give up.  Imagine if societies understood how having healthy babies and then, as these children grew, healthier adults would benefit their country’s economy.

This incredible economic impact cannot be overestimated.  In the US alone, human milk as part of the gross domestic product is valued at more than $110 billion/year, but two thirds of this amount is lost because moms are forced to wean their babies prematurely. 4  Millions upon millions of dollars would be saved annually on healthcare costs as formula feeding has lifelong negative health impacts.

But this would also require supporting women who breastfeed, including tearing down barriers to breastfeeding in public, having adequate maternity leave for all women, and then employer support of continued breastfeeding/pumping after returning to work.  It would pay for itself, of course, and then some.

Yes, the simple act of breastfeeding, the special and loving bond between a mother and her baby, does have a profound impact on society.  Let’s tear down the barriers and make sure everything in our culture that can be done to support breastfeeding mothers is done.