Breastfeeding: The Benefits for Babies
On our last blog, we discussed the benefits for parents of breastfeeding. If you haven’t gotten a chance to check it out, you should. But breastfeeding is not only beneficial to the parent, it is beneficial for the baby. Let’s go through exactly how/why that is.
Breast milk provides almost perfect nutrition for your baby and changes based on his needs.
Your breast milk supplies almost all the vitamins, proteins, and fats that your baby needs (see the one exception below). As his needs vary, so does the content of your breast milk. In the first few days, you make colostrum. This first milk is perfect for your baby. It is a laxative, helping him pass his meconium, the sticky poop of the first few days. Colostrum is also made in very small amounts, which is good because your baby’s stomach is only about the size of a marble at birth.
After the first few days, your milk supply increases as your baby sucks more, following a supply and demand format to give baby the amount needed. This is different from formula, which is made in a set amount, often leading to either overeating or wasted formula (aka $$$).
Your milk varies throughout a feeding, progressing from a lower fat content (often called “foremilk”) to a higher fat content (“hindmilk”) throughout the feeding. New parents can sometimes worry that their baby isn’t nursing long enough to get to the hindmilk. We encourage you not to stress about this too much – it is more of a gradual transition than a hard cut-off. For more information, check out this article by La Leche League International, an expert resource in all things breastfeeding.
The one exception to the “breast milk has everything your baby needs” rule is vitamin D, which sometimes does need to be supplemented. Our bodies naturally make vitamin D when exposed to sunlight but we often don’t put babies in the sun. Due to this, they may need a little help getting enough (ask your pediatrician about supplementation!!).
Breast milk gives antibodies (essentially-magic-infection-fighting-proteins) to your baby.
When you are exposed to a bacteria or virus, your body makes unique antibodies for two reasons. The first is to fight the current infection. The second is to create a faster response if you are ever exposed to the same infection again. Some of these antibodies can be transmitted through breast milk, giving a nursing newborn with an underdeveloped immune system some extra help fighting infections. Antibodies are especially high in the colostrum to give an immediate boost beginning in the first hour of life. Cool, right?
Breast milk is more easily digested than formula.
This means less tummy trouble for your little one and explains why nursing babies are often fed more frequently. Breast milk is broken down quickly, so they are ready to eat again sooner. This helps build up your milk supply, ensuring you have enough for your growing newborn.
Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of health problems and SIDs.
You may be thinking, “Wait, didn’t we hear about that in the perks for parents article?” Yep, it protects babies too. It lowers their risk for both asthma and allergies. If exclusively breastfed, it also lowers their risk for ear infections, diarrhea, and upper respiratory infections. Some studies have even shown a decrease in diabetes, obesity, inflammatory bowel disease (like Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis) and cancers.
There is also a decrease in sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in exclusively breastfed babies over formula fed babies. SIDS is rare but can be scary to new parents. The article above also lists other ways to decrease your baby’s risk of SIDS.
Breastfeeding may boost your baby’s IQ.
This one is a little more controversial but awesome if true. More specifics found here.
Breastfeeding allows an intimate bonding experience for you and your baby.
In the last article, we talked about how oxytocin (“the love hormone”) is released by nursing and helps mothers bond with their newborns. For newborns, it allows them to be held close in a parent’s arms and looking at their face. There is also the skin-to-skin contact of the infant’s face and mother’s chest (although often they share even more skin-to-skin, especially in the early days of nursing). Nursing is often incredibly comforting and soothing for babies and they desire to nurse even when they are not hungry.
We support you, however you choose to feed your baby!
Our caveat to this whole blog is that breastfeeding is awesome and works for many families. But you need to do what works for your family, whether that is breastfeeding, formula-feeding, or both. We want to give you all the information available and support you, however you choose to feed your newborn.