I have spoken so much about my difficulties with breastfeeding in the past. To embrace World Breastfeeding Week, today I wanted to talk about the benefits of breastmilk and why I persisted despite the struggles I experienced.
Breastmilk really is amazing. It is a complete meal for babies up to about 6 months of age. It is always available, sterile and ready whenever and wherever you are. When I breastfed, I love the ease of not having to sterilise, pack bottles and formula with me. It meant travelling easier especially when we headed overseas when Madeleine was only 7 months of age.
Before we start, I just wanted to state that not everybody can breastfeed, and I’m not saying that it’s the only way to feed your baby, but it definitely is the best for so many reasons.
Why it’s good for your baby:
- Both colostrum (produced after you’ve given birth and last for 4 to 5 days before breastmilk comes in) and mature breastmilk contain the required antibodies that protect your baby from infection and disease. This can include gastroenteritis, respiratory tract infections, eat infections and type-1 diabetes.
- Breastmilk is exactly formulated to suit your baby’s need. It contains all the nutrients that’s required for your baby for the first 6 months of their life. Although formula manufacturers try to copy breastmilk as closely as they can, it won’t ever be exactly the same.
- The body knows how much breastmilk to produce, based on how often your baby feeds from you, and is adjusted as they grow older and have fewer feeds. The type of milk changes during the feed too. The first milk is thirst-quenching, whilst the latter milk is rich, creaming and full of good fats. It contains fatty acids that are important for baby brain development.
- The taste of breastmilk changes according to what you’ve eaten. This exposes the baby to different types of food at an early age and is known to reduce allergy risks when they start eating solids. It also gives them different flavours to enjoy.
- Breastmilk is easily digested and easily absorbed into your baby’s system. With formula, you will need to try out a few before you find the right one that suits your baby. We tried 3 different types of formula brands before we found the right one for Madeleine. Some made her too constipated and some made her have colic!
- Breastfeeding reduces infantile colic (which is abdominal pain due to a build up of gas in the baby’s belly). This is usually more common in bottle-fed babies and babies not being able to ‘burp’ frequently.
Why it’s good for mothers:
- Breastfeeding is convenient. You don’t have to sterilise bottles or teats. Carrying around formula and sterile water can be a nuisance especially when you are travelling overseas! (FYI – airports do allow sterile water through security. They may ask you to drink it to prove that it’s just water).
- Breastmilk is free, formula tins are actually quite expensive here in Australia. It is about $20USD which has an expiry of 3 weeks after it’s been opened.
- Breastmilk can be expressed, frozen and used for later if you are headed back to work. I have to admit, I didn’t enjoy expressing. I found it rather boring, but if you had to leave home, this is an option! And the best bit is that after you’ve thawed the frozen breastmilk, you don’t have to sterilise your bottles or teats as breastmilk is sterile!
- Trials have shown that mothers who breastfed have a lower chance of getting breast cancer, osteoporosis and type-2 diabetes.
- Breastfeeding helps with losing weight after giving birth. I lost all my pregnancy weight a week after having Madeleine.
- Breastfeeding also provides security and comfort for babies and toddlers. It is a great soother for newborn babies.
Whether you want to breastfeed or not, is an individual choice. If after birth, you realise you can’t breastfeed, rest assured, formula will give your baby adequate nutrition. It is the next best thing and probably the closest thing to breastmilk. For mothers who don’t produce enough breastmilk and have to supplement with formula, this is very common. It doesn’t mean that breastfeeding has to stop!
How long should I breastfeed for?
There is no time limit of how long you should breastfeed for. But here in Australia, the recommended minimum time frame is 12 months, as by this age you can wean them off to cow’s milk (if you wanted to). But 6 months is a common age when people switch babies over to formula. It is the time when babies start to need extra nutrients from solids for growth and development.
I had planned to breastfeed up until 6 months, however I got lazy with expressing and giving her the bottle, so she refused to take the bottle at 6 months. I continued my breastfeeding career until 10 months. This was when I went back to work and lost my supply. Luckily at that age, she miraculously took the bottle! I’m glad that this happened, as this was around the same time, she got all 4 of her teeth!
References: Raising Children Network, The Royal Children’s Hospital, Better Health Channel and The Royal Women’s Hospital