The evidence is pretty clear – breastfeeding is good for babies. It delivers health benefits that can, literally, last a lifetime.
Breastmilk is the perfect food for your baby. It contains just the right amount of nutrients. It is also gentle on your baby's developing stomach, intestines, and other body systems.
The process of breastfeeding and your milk change as your baby grows and develops. A newborn's feeding routine will be different from that of a breastfeeding 6-month-old. As the baby grows, the nutrients in your milk adapt to your growing baby's needs. The anti-infective properties also increase if you or your baby is exposed to some new bacteria or virus.
Before You Leave the Hospital
Babies tend to be very alert right after they’re born, so it’s a good time to begin breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that, if possible, the baby "be placed and remain in direct skin-to-skin contact with their mothers immediately after delivery until the first feeding is accomplished."
Newborns are born with the ability to latch and breastfeed. This is a reflex that they are born with. When given at least one hour of uninterrupted skin-to-skin time most will latch on their own and begin to nurse. Some babies may require some assistance with getting a proper latch. The nurse can help you and your baby get started.
It’s important to start breastfeeding while in the hospital and to breastfeed often; if you wait a couple days it can become much more difficult for the baby to learn how to latch on.
The Importance of Breast Milk for a Preemie
For premature babies, breastfeeding often isn’t an option. In most instances, they have not yet developed the ability to latch on to a mother’s breast in order to be fed. That means that preemies – who need every boost they can get – don’t always get it. However, sometimes a mother’s milk is expressed and then fed to the baby through a feeding tube.
New research suggests that doing this is extremely beneficial for the baby.
Doctors in Boston researched prematurely born babies up to the age of seven. They found that babies that were fed breast milk in their first 28 days of life performed better when tested for IQ, math skills, language, reading, working memory, attention and motor function. MRIs showed that the babies’ brains developed more fully when they receive breast milk.
It’s important for parents of preemies to know the upside of feeding their baby breast milk. Often, when an infant is in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU), it is an emotional time, and parents are confronted with an avalanche of information. Additionally, the stress of the situation and the baby’s inability to breastfeed can make it difficult for a mother’s milk supply to come in. It’s recommended that mothers of preemies begin pumping breast milk as soon as possible. This will help keep the milk supply up so when the infant is old enough to breastfeed on his or her own, mom will have plenty of milk.
When the baby is old enough to begin breastfeeding, it’s important to start slow with a combination of breastfeeding and pumping breast milk for bottle feedings. This way you and your doctor can be sure the baby is getting enough milk when breastfeeding.
Breast milk has all the vitamins and nutrients a baby needs for the first six months of life. It is also packed with substances that boost immunity. Studies have shown that breastfeeding can reduce a child's risk of developing certain childhood cancers, and also reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
10 Steps to Successful Breastfeeding
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Crozer-Keystone Health System recognizes that breast milk is the optimal nutrition for infants, and supports the 10 steps to successful breastfeeding by:
- Communicating infant feeding policy to all employees
- Training clinical staff on current infant feeding practices
- Informing mothers and families of the benefits of breastfeeding
- Providing immediate skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby
- Instructing mothers on how to begin and maintain breastfeeding
- Encouraging breast milk only for breastfed babies
- Promoting 24-hour mother/baby rooming-in
- Teaching recognition of hunger signs and feeding on-demand
- Discouraging use of bottles and pacifiers for the first month
- Providing resources for breastfeeding and lactation support after discharge