From the start, I wanted to breastfeed. Everything I read confirmed what I already believed—that breastfeeding is the best way to nourish your baby. But I also learned breastfeeding helps protect your baby from infections—and it’s good for you, too. Studies show that nursing Moms return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner than bottle-feeding Moms. Of course, rational benefits like these weren’t all I was thinking about. Again and again friends and family members had told me about the incredible intimacy of breastfeeding. As a Mom-to-be, I longed for that.
Breastfeeding benefits: for baby and you
As your baby grows, your breast milk changes to match her nutritional needs.
Your baby will be getting naturally occurring immune protection to reduce risk of some illnesses and infections (ear, chest and stomach).
You may benefit from faster recovery after pregnancy and delivery, and possibly a lower risk of breast cancer and diabetes later in life.
Breastfeeding is the ideal bonding time for you and your baby.
Breast milk is convenient, fresh and at the right temperature—plus it’s environmentally friendly.
Health Canada recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, and continue to be breastfed for up to 2 years and beyond along with appropriate solid foods starting at around 6 months.
Benefits of breast milk
In the first week or so of baby’s life, your breast milk adapts to meet their changing nutritional needs. In the first few days it is a thick, yellowish liquid called colostrum. Colostrum is lower in lactose than mature milk but has more fat and protein, plus some vitamins and immunity boosting antibodies that help protect your baby against disease and infection.
After 3 or 4 days, you’ll begin expressing milky-looking transitional milk, which has less protein than colostrum but more fat and lactose (a sugar). By about day 10 to two weeks, you’ll be producing fully mature milk. For the most part, your diet can influence your breast milk composition. For example, the amount of DHA—a type of Omega-3 fat and an important building block of the brain—in your breast milk usually depends on how much DHA is in your diet. To increase the amount of DHA in your breast milk and to help support your baby’s rapidly developing brain, you’ll want to eat foods such as fatty fish that are rich in DHA.
How to start breastfeeding
Shortly, you’ll be holding your newborn to your breast and giving your baby the best possible nutrition. But starting out can be a challenge. For many, breastfeeding takes practice and patience to perfect. “Those first few days were pretty hairy,” remembers Danielle Meadows, a mother of two. “I couldn’t get Evan to latch on properly, I couldn’t get comfortable, I felt really anxious, and the pain was almost unbearable. But after some time together—and more than a few tears—it got much better and I went on to nurse Evan for nearly six months.”
What can support every breastfeeding Mom:
A nursing pillow (helps reduce neck and back strain)
Nursing bras (offer easy access and ample support)
Nursing pads (cushion sensitive nipples and prevent leaks from soaking through)
A comfortable place to sit (gliders and rocking chairs calm baby)
Nipple cream (helps soothe and heal cracked nipples)
How you hold baby can make a big difference to your comfort and milk flow.
So what’s the best way?
The key is to keep your back straight and use pillows to support your arms. Relax your shoulders and bring baby up to your breast. Their shoulders and hips should be at the same level, and they should be looking straight at your breast.
Now how to hold baby?
One simple option is the cross-cradle hold: support baby on your arm opposite your breast, with baby’s behind in the crook of your elbow and their head in your hand. Another is the football hold: tuck baby underneath your arm, like a football, with their head resting in your hand, facing your breast. This hold works well when baby is very small.
Breastfeeding frequency: What an appetite!
For the first few weeks, it will feel like all you do is nurse. Your newborn should breastfeed 8 to 12 times a day, for 15 to 45 minutes. This feeding frenzy helps to establish a good milk supply and prepare you for nourishing your baby’s early growth spurt: most infants double their birth weight somewhere around 4 to 6 months of age.
Baby weight gain
How do you tell if baby is getting enough? Simple—check their diaper. If they wets 6 to 8 diapers every day after the first week of life, they're eating enough. Steady weight gain is another positive sign. After losing up to 10% of their birth weight in the first week, newborns should start to gain about 25 grams a day until they reach 3 months.
Breastfeeding diet and good nutrition
What to eat when you’re breastfeeding
Following Canada’s Food Guide is a good step towards meeting your nutritional requirements. (You can find this guide at Health Canada). But when you’re breastfeeding, you’re burning extra energy (calories) to make breast milk. An extra small snack a day is usually enough to satisfy this increased energy need, for example fruit and yogurt as a snack or an extra slice of toast at breakfast and an extra glass of milk at supper. It is important to derive these extra calories from nutritious sources so that you maintain your healthy milk supply and contribute to your baby’s healthy growth and development.
When my daughter Isabella was born, my early days of breastfeeding were a struggle. Sometimes I was frustrated; sometimes I was in pain. But I persevered, and soon Isabella and I were in a relaxed, enjoyable groove and I nursed for many months. If you’ve decided to breastfeed, you may be lucky and it will just happen. But if you’re like most first-time Moms, you can expect challenges.
When I was nursing, I kept a large glass of fresh water on my bedside table to help me stay hydrated through the sleepy nighttime feedings.
Breastfeeding is like anything else you’ve never done before. Just keep at it, don’t be afraid to ask for help, stay positive, and remember that practice really does make perfect. Remind yourself that nursing is hard for many new Moms in the beginning, but that soon you’ll enjoy the intimacy and bonding. Plus, you can take comfort in knowing that you’re giving her the very best nutritional start.
Breastfeeding pain: Easing discomfort
Nursing is wonderful, but it can also be uncomfortable. Around 3 days after giving birth, your milk will “come in” and your breasts will feel full, swollen and sore. How to relieve the pain? Start by nursing more often. If that’s not enough, get a pump to take excess milk from your breasts, or take a shower, which can trigger your letdown reflex. To reduce swelling, try ice wrapped in a cloth.
When it just won’t work.
For some women and some babies, breastfeeding doesn’t work. If that includes you or your newborn, don’t be hard on yourself, and don’t worry. Your baby can get their nourishment from infant formula and feeding time can still be wonderfully intimate.