Breastfeeding Your Baby: Here's Your Complete Guide to Breastfeeding
Soon after the long awaited arrival of your little one, your questions and worries begin. There will be no end to your questions and the most important and common ones are usually are about, 'Breastfeeding my baby' - “How long should I breastfeed my baby? How often should I breastfeed my little one? Is my little one getting enough milk? How do I know?” This article should help you be aware of all that is needed with respect to breastfeeding so that you can rest easy.
Breastfeeding your baby: Why Breastmilk?
Breastmilk is the most natural and apt food for your baby that contains all the nutrients needed for her healthy growth and development. You may be amazed to learn that the characteristics of human breastmilk changes to meet your little one’s needs as she grows. This means that if your baby is premature, your milk that you breastfeed her, will be different than what it would have been if you had a full term delivery baby. This in turn is different from the milk that you produce when your baby is 6 months old. Not only that, the milk produced during late evenings and night is slightly different from that produced in the daytime. However, all these milks contain exactly the right nutritional and protective components needed by your baby at that stage. Breastmilk contains more than 200 known beneficial elements, with more being discovered all the time. Amazing isn’t it? That is why it is recommended that you exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first 6 months of her life.
Breastfeeding your baby: How long should it be?
Breastfeeding your baby should ideally be started within an hour of giving birth. This may take longer after a Cesarean delivery. The milk that is produced during late pregnancy called colostrum, is what you breastfeed your baby, the first couple of days. Colostrum is produced in a very little quantity which will be sufficient for your newborn as her tummy is that tiny. Colostrum is pale yellow in colour and is higher in protein, minerals, salt, vitamin A, nitrogen, white blood cells, and certain antibodies, and has less fat and sugar than mature milk that will come in a couple of days. It is so rich in antibodies that it is known as the first immunization for your baby.
The mature milk comes in after the first couple of days. Mostly, it is produced in a larger quantity than what is needed. Breastmilk production works on the principle of supply and demand so the more often you breastfeed, the more milk you produce. Mature milk contains water, fat, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins and minerals, amino acids, enzymes, and white cells. As you breastfeed you baby, your breastmilk changes from the initial foremilk that is high in water and lactose, to the later hindmilk that is high in fat and calories. Both these milks are needed by your baby so make sure that you empty one breast completely before you start feeding her from the other breast. This will reduce chances of breast engorgement and mastitis for you. The time taken for breastfeeding your baby will vary for other mothers. It can be 5 to 20 minutes on an average and at times even 40 to 60 minutes as amount of milk varies for mothers across. For some babies, feeding from one breast is sufficient, so the next time you breastfeed, you can start from the other breast. It is good to alternate breast at each feed. Your left and right breasts may also produce different volumes of breastmilk so the time taken at each breast may be different. The quantity of milk that you produce will keep increasing along with your baby's weight and appetite until solid food becomes a daily part of her diet.
You should watch out for her cues to know when she has had enough milk and then stop feeding her. Do not force feed after that. Watch out for the following:
•She starts to close her lips.
•She turns her head away from your nipples and breast.
•She starts to spit out the nipple after around 15-20 minutes and falls asleep.
•She reduces or stops sucking completely even while being latched on to your nipple.
•She starts showing more interest in her surroundings rather than drinking milk.
Breastfeeding your baby: How often should you feed her?
Babies should generally be breastfed on demand. A newborn may usually feed 8 to 12 times in a 24 hour period for the first 2-4 weeks. During the initial days, you may have to gently wake your baby to begin nursing, and she may fall asleep again in the middle of the feed. They should be fed every 1.5 hours to 2 hours during the day. Even if asleep at night, you should not allow her to sleep for more than 4 hours without a feed. Later on, as she grows, you should allow your baby to set the pace as she will develop an internal appetite control that will tell her when she is full and has consumed the calories that she needs for her growth. The frequency will slowly decrease as her tummy gets bigger. During growth spurts (for example at 3 and 6 months) your baby will breastfeed more frequently and for a longer duration. Your milk supply will correspondingly grow as per her needs. It is also normal for your baby to “cluster feed,” meaning that she will feed several times close together and then go several hours without feeding. You should be able to identify your baby’s subtle cues for hunger and feed her accordingly. These are the usual cues to look out for:
•She starts to lick or smack her lips (one of the earliest cues).
•She starts sucking on her hands, lips, toes, clothes, toys, and fingers.
•She starts opening and closing her mouth.
•She starts to stick her tongue out.
•She starts to move her head from side to side as though searching for milk. This is known as the rooting reflex.
•She starts crying for milk. This is one of the later cues and you shouldn’t wait this long to start feeding her.
How do you know that your baby is getting enough milk?
This is a question that almost all new mothers have. Luckily, there are factors that can help you with this question and those are as follows:
•Number of diapers
If your little one wets at least 6 diapers in a day, it means that she is getting sufficient milk.
After the initial few days when birth weight reduces, your baby should have a steady weight gain. This is around 175-210 grams per week for the first 3 months and henceforth, 400 grams per month till 1 year of age. This shows that she is getting enough milk.
•The feel of your breasts
If after breastfeeding, your breasts feel empty, soft and light it means that your baby has drunk milk.
•Your baby’s reactions
If your baby looks happy and satisfied after a feed, it means that she has got enough milk.
Till what age should you continue breastfeeding your baby?
According to WHO, it is highly recommended that a baby should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months. After that, breastfeeding your baby can continue as long as it is comfortable for both, you and your baby. Research shows that our biology seems geared to a weaning age of between 2 and a half to 7 years. It makes sense to build our children's bones from the milk that was designed for them and your milk provides antibodies and other protective substances as long as your child continues breastfeeding.
It is also found that the longer a child breastfeeds, the higher is her intelligence. Mothers who breastfeed long term also have a lower risk of developing breast cancer. In case you have to go back to your job and career, there is always the option of expressing your breastmilk and storing it so that your little one’s caregiver can feed it to her. To conclude, it is totally left to you as to how long you want to breastfeed your little one as long as you have exclusively done so for the first 6 months.