Why should you Breastfeed your baby?

As a IBCLC, (Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant) I get this question from many pregnant mothers and their partners.

Firstly, new mothers now are so lucky to have the internet with all its information (not all true by the way), and all the support from more mothers choosing to breastfeed.  In the opinion of lactation consultants breastfeeding should be the norm in our culture, not bottle feeding formula. But since much of us were not breastfed and many others never subjected to breastfeeding growing up, it does not always feel “normal”.  It has only been the last 100 years or so that breastmilk and breastfeeding had been deemed not important enough and “formulas” were invented to nourish newborns.  Those “formulas” were not always perfect and yes some babies did die with the initial experimenting.  Doctors started specializing in different health areas and the pediatrician was formed.  Many of them tried to teach mothers to schedule and regulate mother’s breastfeeding. Thinking that they may be feeding their newborns too often and too much breast milk.  Once they scheduled the feeding of course there were less feedings. Less feedings produced less milk.  You see milk production is a “supply—demand” reaction, the more a baby “asked” for the more a mother would make.  Decrease that natural response and obviously there would be less milk.  It was then that doctors decided to start mixing “formulas” made of cows milk and sugars etc. to simulate (Similac) breastmilk.

I also get the question, well what did mothers do if they didn’t make enough milk before formula was invented?  Or did every mother just make enough milk?  The answers to those questions may surprise most.  First off not every mother made enough milk even back before formula. Believe it or not other mothers would help out, even grandmothers would feed their own grandchildren or aunts, sisters, friends and neighbors.  There are many stories of mothers waiting outside houses on lines to have a mother with an over supply feed their babies.  Mothers always do what is needed for their babies.  Of course even today many mothers do opt out of formula and get either milk via milk banks or even private donations. Yes formula is now relatively safe and is still the second option for most babies. But there is this other option that is becoming more and more common.

Obviously most mothers I meet already know they want to breastfeed, so I do not have to work too hard to convince them but the health benefits are usually the first benefits I do talk about.  Every day we hear about more studies that prove different health benefits for the baby as well as the mother.

First off is my favorite, IMMUNITIES.  Imagine if every day you could give your baby a good vaccine against another virus? That is what breastfeeding does. Whatever virus the mother comes in contact with will go through her body and if her body has seen this bacteria/virus before her immune system jumps in and creates the exact antibody to fight it.  That is how antibiotics got their name, although antibiotics are “broad spectrum” which means you never know if that prescription will actually kill that bacteria. But the mothers body knows which antibody to use and sends it through her breastmilk.  Yes breastfed babies can get sick, but studies show they “bounce back” much quicker with the help of breastmilk. 

Another benefit for babies is that breastmilk is a brain food.  There have been many studies over the years and there are recent studies.  “Young children who were breastfed as infants are smarter and performed higher on intelligence tests than their formula-fed counterparts, and the longer and more exclusively they were breastfed, the greater the difference, Harvard University researchers said.” 

 And “….each additional month a child was breastfed resulted in better language skills at 3 years old and intelligence at age 7, compared with babies who had formula milk. The study is one of the largest to analyze the impact of breastfeeding on a child's intelligence.”

So the longer a baby breastfeeds the better the outcome as well.

Which brings us to the next question… How long should I breastfeed for or how long do I breastfeed for any optimal results? 

The AAP ( American Academy of Pediatrics) recommendation:. “ The AAP recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for about the first 6 months of life. This means your baby needs no additional foods (except Vitamin D) or fluids unless medically indicated. Babies should continue to breastfeed for a year and for as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby. Breastfeeding should be supported by your physician for as long as it is the right choice for you and your baby “

I try to emphasis the statement “as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby.”  Yes a year is wonderful, but telling a mother having issues at week one this could definitely be discouraging and make her feel inferior.  I tell my patients to take it day by day, week by week and month by month. Then I am pleasantly surprised to hear from a mom months or years later that breastfeeding became easier and more enjoyable and “we are still breastfeeding”. Even though us lactation consultants do not like to use the word “still”.  

The most important part of mothering is to ENJOY YOUR BABY. If breastfeeding is becoming difficult you do not have to endure until the pain in your nipples “toughen up” or “eventually the baby will not spit up or cry for hours”. If you are experiencing any difficulties or problems you should find your local IBCLC, this recommendation could be from your pediatrician, OB/GYN, friends or many other places.  Always ask for the credentials of IBCLC as well. We are board certified and we must comply with the rigorous standards of our certification.  

Most importantly enjoy your baby, if for some reason you decide to not breastfeed or are limited to the amount of breastmilk you produce, always hold your baby, always kiss your baby, always nurture your baby.  Your baby needs to be loved and can never be “spoiled” by holding or caring for immediately when he or she cries.  Use your motherly instincts, that wonderful voice in your head telling you what feels right or wrong.  Listen to them, they will never steer you wrong.  

Donna B. Kimick, IBCLC, RLC
Lakeshore Lactation