Breastfeeding is an act of love and affection that provides an intimate relationship between mother and baby, and is a fundamental factor for their psycho-affective development. For a mother, feeding her child is also a very natural gesture, just as it is for the baby. This does not mean that, unbeknownst to the woman, some mistakes are not made.
Pediatricians recommend that babies up to six months of age should be fed only breast milk, they do not need teas, juices, other milks, or even water. After that age, appropriate complementary feeding should be given, but breastfeeding should continue until the child is two years old or older.
Breastfeeding babies immediately after birth is very important, as it can reduce neonatal mortality that occurs up to the 28th day of life.
For the woman, breastfeeding is also important because it helps uterine contractions, reducing the risk of hemorrhage.
On the other hand, breastfeeding strengthens the affective bond between mother and child, as we mentioned before.
Babies who are breastfed get less sick and are better nourished than those who ingest any other type of food.
Replacing breast milk with infant formula or milk from other animals can be dangerous for the baby’s health. This is especially true when parents cannot afford to buy enough formula or when the water they use to prepare the food is not clean enough.
Almost all mothers are able to breastfeed successfully. Those who lack the confidence to breastfeed need encouragement and practical support from the father of the child, as well as from family and friends. Health workers, women’s organizations, the media, and employers can also offer their support.
Breast Milk Production
The amount of milk produced does not depend on the mother, but is regulated by the baby according to several factors: the interval between feeds, the volume of milk taken each time, and whether she gets milk from one breast or from both.
There can be great variability in the interval between feeds and in the volume of milk taken per feeding, but not in the total volume taken daily. Crying is a late sign of hunger and not all babies cry after the early signs of hunger are manifested.
There is a substance in the milk that, if it remains in the breast, acts as an inhibiting factor, causing the cells to stop producing it, “controlling” the overproduction of milk. If the breast milk is removed, via breastfeeding or otherwise, the inhibiting factor is also removed, and then the breast will produce more milk.
Characteristics of Breast Milk
The composition of breast milk changes over time, during the day, and at each feeding. It varies according to the baby’s needs and adapts to the rate of growth.
Colostrum: Colostrum is yellowish and/or transparent and is produced in small quantities until the 2nd or 3rd day after birth. It is low in fat and lactose, but very rich in proteins and antibodies that will protect the baby against infections. It has a laxative effect and promotes intestinal maturation.
Transition milk: It has a color more similar to that of milk. It has a higher concentration of fats, vitamins, and lactose. Between the 2nd and 3rd day, the breasts become more tense and there may be a feverish peak – this is due to the increased volume of milk produced.
Mature milk: This occurs from the 15th day until weaning. During breastfeeding initially the milk is more liquid and sugary and becomes increasingly thicker and rich in lipids.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
For the mother
Promotes early uterine involution (a process that leads to recovery of normal uterine size) and weight regain;
Promotes mother-baby bonding and strengthens the woman’s self-esteem;
Reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and the incidence of diabetes and osteoporosis.
For the baby
Breast milk is easily digestible and promotes intestinal maturation of the baby;
It strengthens the immune system;
Provides the nutrients and water that the baby needs in the right proportions;
Prevents gastrointestinal, respiratory, and urinary infections;
Decreases the occurrence of otitis media, risk of obesity, allergic diseases, and juvenile diabetes.
Allows an adequate adaptation to new foods;
Contributes to the proper development of the orofacial muscles and bones and reduces the occurrence of dental caries.
Difficulties in breastfeeding
Many women experience numerous difficulties in breastfeeding, which sometimes leads them to stop breastfeeding too early.
They are confronted with inexperience, they are “clogged” with the opinions of family members who often question the quality of the milk, the number of feeds the baby has.
As a consequence of the lack of support that they sometimes feel, they resort to formulas to try to find a solution for their child. However, this is not the best solution for the needs of both mother and child.
There is still a lot of discomfort in our society when seeing a mother breastfeed her child in public, which triggers a certain discomfort in them.
Problems that may arise during breastfeeding
Nipples can become sore or cracked early on in breastfeeding, making this a painful process.
When the “let down” of milk occurs, between the 2nd and 3rd day, the breasts can become tense, warm and painful. Fever (38º) can occur for 24 hours.
Mastitis (inflamed breast)
In this situation, the breast becomes red, tense, hot and very painful, causes malaise, and is accompanied by fever. It is associated with duct blockage (channel where the milk passes) or with infectious situations associated with contamination by microorganisms through the cracked nipples.