By Bunye Fridman
There is a common idea that women breastfeed for the baby’s sake, given all the health benefits that have been associated with it and are widely known. But women also nurse their babies because they find it enjoyable! The physical and emotional closeness they feel while nursing, strengthens their bond with their baby and creates an experience of joy, love and giving that they remember fondly for the rest of their lives—even if they were only able to nurse for a short time.
Women have always had a maternal instinct to nurse their babies after giving birth. Part of the reason they feel a natural urge to do so is because nursing triggers the secretion of oxytocin, the hormone that helps the uterus contract properly after birth. This prevents excessive bleeding and helps the woman heal and return to her pre-pregnancy figure.
Nursing right after birth has also been shown to facilitate optimal thermal regulation in babies. Babies maintain their temperature better when held skin-to-skin than when kept in a warm crib.
The Perfect First Food
The early milk, called colostrum, is the perfect food for a newborn baby: it is higher in protein, vitamins and minerals than the mature milk that comes in later (or the formula that is made to provide the same nutrients). As opposed to the white, creamy, mature milk, colostrum is somewhat sticky and ranges in color from clear to deep yellow. Because it is so concentrated, babies only need a little, and don’t require any supplementation. The chemical composition of colostrum helps keep babies’ blood sugar steady and serves as a perfect laxative, which is important to help babies clear out meconium—the waste that builds up in their digestive systems over the course of the pregnancy. Nursing babies in general have more frequent and softer stools than their formula-fed peers, and this can help prevent certain problems such as jaundice. While babies do fine without colostrum, it can provide an extra boost of nutrition to get them off to a great start in life.
Facilitating Healthy Lactation
Fascinating research in Sweden found that babies nurse best when they are placed on their mothers’ bellies and allowed to crawl up and latch on independently. They are born with all the reflexes they need for this process, and they are born alert and seeking comfort. Left to their own devices, they often achieve an excellent latch.
To prevent any issues with breastfeeding, it’s important to avoid separating the mother and baby after the birth as much as possible. Choosing a hospital that offers “rooming-in” rather than taking the baby away to sleep in a nursery at night can help facilitate healthy lactation and bonding. You can continue this at home by having the baby sleep in the room with you. If something happens that makes it necessary for the baby and mother to be separated, it may be difficult for the baby to readjust and start nursing right away. Give the baby two hours of skin-to-skin time when together again. Nursing as soon as you can and as frequently as you can after birth can also make lactation easier.
Additionally, it’s important to avoid confusing the baby by switching back and forth between nursing and bottle-feeding. Extracting milk from a bottle is easier than nursing, so babies who get used to bottle-feeding may have trouble readjusting their sucking technique, and may subsequently refuse to go back to nursing.
Keeping your baby close by helps you notice the cues that tell you when your baby is hungry. You’ll see that she is stirring, waking up, moving around or rubbing her mouth, and you’ll hear her make little sounds—it’s best not to wait for her to cry. When you notice these signs, pick her up and let her eat. Babies need to nurse about 10-12 times over a 24-hour period. If he sleeps a lot, you may need to wake him for feedings; sleepy babies who don’t eat enough may have problems such as jaundice or poor weight gain.
If you experience any problems with breastfeeding, such as pain or discomfort, or if your baby is particularly fussy or not gaining weight well—don’t hesitate to get help! A certified lactation consultant can help diagnose any issues and set you on track for a healthy and enjoyable nursing experience for both you and your baby.
About the Author
Bunye Fridman is a certified Lactation Consultant. She received her certification from the American Academy of Pediatrics and has been practicing for 14 years. Bunye is a published author and speaks Hebrew, English and Yiddish. She works all over central Israel and is available for phone consultations.
Bunye can be reached at 052-769-7114