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.
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.