Breastfeeding is MORE than Milk

 Breastfeeding provides perfect nutrition for infants, but it also does much more! Direct nursing at the breast has a whole host of benefits that are easily overlooked in a culture so focused on the milk. Nutrition is only one aspect of infant feeding that leads to growth and development.

Muscle Mechanics:

  The muscle mechanics involved with nursing facilitate optimal cranial-facial development. You’ve probably heard about importance of “tummy time” for the development of head control. Nursing your baby in a laid back position is tummy time made easy! Breastfeeding also coordinated the right and left hemispheres of the brain because the baby is moved from left to right on the mother’s body. This brain development is critical to other developmental milestones like crawling, walking, and later reading. The developing infant palate, mouth, and skull are shaped by feeding. Feeding at the breast helps the baby achieve normal oral motor function and growth.

Skin to Skin:

    Breastfeeding inherently provides the skin to skin contact newborns need for early neurological development, body temperature regulation, and blood sugar regulation. The mother-baby bonding that occurs while a baby is at the breast is unparalleled. Studies show held babies have lower stress hormones.

Increased Maternal Rest:

    Exclusively breastfed infants who sleep in close proximity to their mother replicate their mother’s REM cycles.  Since their sleep is in sync, the baby is more likely to wake for nursing when the mother is not in a deep sleep state.  Maternal sleep is a crucial part of postpartum recovery. Studies show that breastfeeding moms actually sleep about 45 minutes more per night than formula feeding moms.

Better Maternal and Infant Mood:

    Breastfeeding facilitates the release of the “feel good” hormone oxytocin in the mother during “let down” or milk ejection reflex. Mothers of breastfed babies experience less postpartum depression.  Breastmilk contains multiple hormones that promote happiness and relaxation in infants. Breastfed babies also are less likely to have colic.

Infant Sleep/Wake Cycle Regulation:

    When babies are first born they do not make their own sleep hormones. The newborn receives the sleep hormone melatonin directly from breastmilk. The act of suckling at the breast releases a hormone in the baby called CCK, which makes him or her feel full and sleepy. Nursing to sleep is good for babies!

Protection from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome:

    Frequent night wakings to nurse are a large part of normal infant sleep, and serve as nature’s protection against SIDS. Bottle feeding human milk through the night has not shown to be as protective in preventing SIDS as direct nursing at the breast.

The American Association of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding with complementary solids until at least age 1. Continued support is a huge factor in long term EBF success. A prenatal visit with a lactation consultant or lactation counselor is the first step. An LC can answer your questions and assist you with formulating a breastfeeding friendly birth plan.  If you have already had your baby, schedule a home visit or clinic visit with your LC for an in depth consult that can help your family realize all the benefits of breastfeeding.

Bringing Your Newborn Home

Bringing your infant home can be both exciting and scary. You may wonder what your family’s new normal will look like. Many refer to this period of time as the “fourth trimester,” or the period of time when mom and baby both adjust to their new physically separate states. This adjustment takes place over the course of several months. When your baby is first born he or she has no experience with the world beyond the womb. Certain things can facilitate the ease of this transition from the womb to your arms. Bonding is the name of the game during the first days home. “Eat, bond, sleep, repeat” becomes the new mother’s mantra.

    The natural habitat of the human infant is mother’s breast. Your baby will likely spend most of his or her time there for the first few months. Since newborn nutrition is such a large part of life with a new baby, taking a prenatal breastfeeding class is essential. You may wish to speak to an LC one on one to discuss your questions or concerns specific to your family prior to your baby’s arrival.  A prenatal breastfeeding consult is a helpful tool for preparing you with information about establishing the nursing relationship. Most of the time in Atlanta area hospitals, you will have the opportunity to receive a quick consult from a hospital lactation consultant prior to your discharge. This consult is generally brief. Many families still have questions and concerns regarding breastfeeding after returning home. Many new moms prefer to schedule home visits with their LC to stay in the comfort of  home during the recovery period.

 Breastmilk is digested in 90 minutes. Expect to nurse your baby 10-15 times per 24 hours. Many first time mothers worry that their baby nursing frequently is a sign that they do not make enough milk. This is usually not the case. Colostrum, or newborn milk, is present in your breasts starting early in the third trimester. It is nutritionally rich and very little is required to fill a new baby’s tiny stomach. If your baby experiences the common condition “jaundice” also called hyperbilirubinemia, colostrum is a powerful laxative that will help resolve it. Within the first few days your milk will transition to “mature milk.” Each time your baby nurses, it signals your body to make more milk. Frequent on-cue nursing during the newborn period generally equates to a robust milk supply in the long term. Exclusive breastfeeding or “EBF” and avoiding formula are common goals for many mothers. This goal is attainable with access to breastfeeding education and breastfeeding help if necessary.

    The best indicator of adequate intake is output. Normal diaper count is 6-10 wet or dirty diapers daily. In the first week, counting diapers can give you reassurance that your baby is indeed eating enough. Your baby should have at least one stool per each day of life. Day one- 1 poop, Day two- 2 poops, Day three- three poops, and so on. “Cluster feeding” or blocks of frequent nursing are common. Although nursing is frequent, it should never feel painful. Your baby will likely love to be held on your chest close to your breasts even when he or she is not nursing.

    Skin to skin contact is crucial for your newborn.  Skin to skin regulates the infant’s body temperature and blood sugar. It also facilitates important early neurological development. The simple act of holding your baby skin to skin stimulates production of hormones in both the mother and baby that keep everyone feeling relaxed and calm.  Your partner can help you with this important bonding process by doing things like screening phone calls, entertaining visitors, bringing you food and drinks, changing diapers, and caring for older children. Your partner should encourage you to rest as much as possible while your baby sleeps.

Newborn sleep gets a lot of publicity. When babies are born, they do not make their own sleep hormones. They receive their sleep hormones from their mother via breastmilk and suckling. This is why many babies nurse to sleep. Nursing to sleep is biologically normal and natural. Many people refer to babies “having their days and nights confused.” This is not the case. Babies are not born with a light/dark cycle. One will eventually develop with time, but during the newborn period frequent night wakings are to be expected.  Frequent waking to nurse is part of nature’s protection against SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a form of co-sleeping that is referred to as “rooming in” for the first six months of life as a measure of SIDS risk reduction. Sleeping in close proximity to your baby also allows to have a heightened awareness of your baby’s hunger cues throughout the night.

Your new baby’s first days at home will likely seem like more of a whirlwind than pregnancy.  Prenatal breastfeeding education and accurate expectations of the newborn period can make this transition much more manageable for families. However, there will be times that you don’t know what to do. When in doubt just do less, nurse more, and call your LC!

Are My Breasts Empty?

Our lactation counselors are frequently told that the mother feels her breasts are empty or not full any more. This anxiety often causes mothers to end exclusive breastfeeding prematurely or begin supplementing with formula when it is not needed. One of the most common misconceptions about breastfeeding is that breasts, like tanks or bladders, fill and empty. Here are some facts about the way human lactation works to help nursing mothers understand what is going on in there.

Fact: Breasts contain glands, not bladders. Milk production is continuous.
Human milk is made by specialized cells called myoepithelial cells. Blood is supplied to these cells, and they turn blood into milk, drop by drop. The milk is continuously being produced by these cell as well as continuously reabsorbed into the blood stream. During periods of engorgement, the body tries to reabsorb the milk faster and slow down the production. When the baby is actively nursing or mom is actively pumping, the reabsorption is slower and production is faster. Breasts can never be empty until after the baby is fully weaned off breastfeeding.

Fact: Babies don’t take all of the available milk during nursing.
Using ultrasound, science has determined that babies take about 65% of the available milk in the breast during a feeding session. This is why pumping milk after feedings is recommended for mothers who are pumping and storing milk for future separations.

Fact: The more rapidly milk is removed from the breast, the more rapidly new milk is made.
When milk is being removed from the breast, the milk making hormone prolactin is highest. Frequency of nursing and pumping is key to making more milk. Women who “save up” or try to wait for the breast to feel full before nursing are actually lowering their prolactin levels. This is why supply and demand is the law for breastfeeding and making more milk. Moms who remove milk the most frequently will make the most breastmilk.

Fact: Even a hospital grade double electric breast pump cannot empty the breast.
Because milk making hormones peak during milk removal (nursing, pumping, or hand expression), the body will always rush to make more milk every time mom is pumping.

The Take Away

Continuous breastfeeding or breast milk removal is the key to high levels of milk production. If a mother is doubting her milk production capabilities, milk production is easily assessed by an LC at a home visit or office visit. LCs employ techniques like weighed feeds and latch assessments to determine how well the baby is “transferring” or getting enough milk. When in doubt, it is always better to nurse more and pump more. Supply and demand is the ruling principle of lactation. Feelings of fullness do not happen for all women who make a full milk supply. Feelings of fullness may come and go but do not indicate milk production levels or how well the baby is eating.

 

Breastfeeding and Maternal Diet

There are thousands of myths about what mothers should or shouldn’t eat when breastfeeding. The current recommendation is that the mother should eat a varied diet of healthy foods that are typical for her geographic region or culture and not limit or include any special foods without medical indication.

To understand why maternal diet should not be restricted, it’s best to examine how milk is made. Milk is made inside glands from the blood stream. Breast milk is NOT made from the mother’s stomach contents. The foods mom eats are broken down in the digestive system. Blood reaches the milk glands where it delivers carbohydrates, nutrients, white blood cells, enzymes, pro- and pre-biotics water, fat, and proteins into the gland.

The foods that mom eats have a long trip to the milk. Not every food is able to pass a whole protein or fat or carbohydrate out of the GI and into the blood stream. Most of the proteins moms eat are broken down substantially in the digestive system. Insoluble fiber is a component of mom’s diet that never leaves the GI and never reaches the milk.

When considering foods to include or avoid when breastfeeding, we must remember that the whole food does not enter the milk. Here is a list of common food myths for nursing mothers and the facts:

MYTH: Broccoli, cabbage, beans, and cucumber give the baby gas.
FACT: Vegetables cause gas because of insoluble fiber mixing with gut bacteria. Insoluble fiber does not leave the GI tract and cannot reach the milk.

MYTH: Spicy food will make the breastmilk spicy.
FACT: Human milk is very sweet. No evidence has been found of capsaicin in human milk. Many moms taste-test their own milk after eating well seasoned food.

MYTH: Strong flavors a like garlic or onions will give the baby colic.
FACT: In a garlic breastmilk study, the babies in the garlic group spent more time at the breast and took more milk. Garlic might be helpful for moms who need to nurse more.

MYTH: If the baby is fussy or has colic, cut dairy.
FACT: Cow milk protein allergy is only in 2-7% of the population. Fussiness is not a symptom for diagnosing cow milk protein allergy.

MYTH: If the baby is gassy or has colic, switch to lactose-free milk
FACT: Lactose is the primary carbohydrate in human milk. It does not come from lactose in mom’s diet. The breast glands make lactose. Lactose intolerance in a newborn is a serious metabolic issue that needs to be addressed by a medical doctor.

MYTH: Mom should avoid soda because it gives the baby gas.
FACT: Carbonated drinks don’t carbonate the blood. The bubbles can’t reach the milk.

MYTH: Peppermint (tea, candy, essential oil) will dry up your milk.
FACT: Some folklore and historic herbal texts list peppermint as a lactogenic herb. There is no science to support either claim. Peppermint is one of the herbal teas listed as compatible with breastfeeding by The Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice.

MYTH: You have to drink milk to make milk.
FACT: Plenty of dairy-free women make milk.

 

Have your own favorite dietary myth to add? Leave us a comment! Breastfeeding myths are a favorite topic at our regular free mother to mother support group.

 

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