Disclaimer: While this article will focus on breastfeeding, it is important to acknowledge that breastfeeding is a mother’s choice and there are many reasons why she may not breastfeed; how mothers choose to nourish their babies is their choice and each choice is entirely valid.
Breastfeeding can be one of the most unique and personal experiences a mother shares with her child. There are many benefits that accompany this experience. For newborns, breastfeeding helps them to develop and strengthen their health in many different ways. For one, breastfeeding is an ideal source of nourishment, full of nutritional value unique to the developmental needs of a newborn and delivering just the right combination of fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, and protein. For another, breastfeeding carries incredible immunological and anti-inflammatory benefits, which defends babies from harmful illnesses and diseases. Antibodies from mothers are transferred to babies through breastmilk, which is especially effective as newborns await their vaccinations. Breastfeeding has been found to decrease babies’ chances of contracting diseases such as asthma, obesity, severe lower respiratory disease, and gastrointestinal infections. This list is far from exhaustive, as evidence supports wide-ranging decreases in morbidity and hospitalizations.
Even for the mother, breastfeeding can be beneficial as it promotes stronger and faster recovery from delivery. The hormones released in breastfeeding, namely oxytocin, help the uterus return back to average size and can help reduce postpartum bleeding. Additionally, studies have indicated that breastfeeding potentially decreases a mother’s chance of developing ovarian and breast cancer. Breastfeeding also helps in mother and baby bonding. The same hormone, also released during birth, orgasm, hugging, and skin-to-skin contact, is said to decrease anxiety and stress while increasing desire for social interaction. Due to this, it is sometimes known to be called the “Love Hormone” as these effects can foster feelings of empathy and trust, promoting bonding between the mother and the baby. To top it all off, the process of breastfeeding allows a mother to nourish her newborn directly with comparatively less usage of bottles, reducing the need to constantly wash, disinfect, and warm up the bottles for every feeding.
With benefits like these, it is no wonder why breastfeeding is so heavily endorsed. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that all mothers who are able should exclusively breastfeed their children from birth until their child is six months old. Many mothers in the United States, over 80%, report breastfeeding their newborns at some point.
While a popular avenue, it is not always easy; breastfeeding for every mom is unique. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 60% of mothers report that they did not breastfeed for as long as they had hoped to. New mothers experience a range of challenges when attempting to breastfeed, and the CDC notes that common challenges that emerge within breastfeeding include: issues with lactation and latching, concerns with infant weight, and unsupportive cultural and workplace norms. Without help and guidance, these challenges often become too overwhelming to navigate alone, resulting in premature cessation.
In an article about Danish mothers first experiences breastfeeding, “Mothers reported being helped through this phase by health professionals who supported them with practical and informative assistance that took into account the actual context in the embedded problem, “it can be a great help boosting one's confidence in breastfeeding.” The decisive kind of help in this period of transition was that health professionals remained in contact and provided continued support that signaled faith in the mother and her capability to breastfeed.”
Through lactation consultations, professional consultants can provide personalized support to each mother on the most crucial aspects of breastfeeding, such as how to increase the milk supply, finding the best nursing position, and managing breast pain. Proper guidance and education from seasoned specialists can aid the mothers in overcoming the challenges that often force them into feelings of defeat. Not only do the consultants act as an educator to find a breastfeeding solution, but also as a confidante who empowers women to understand their bodies and make educationally informed decisions.
Choosing to breastfeed and learning how to do it properly can be extremely personal and difficult. The experience is varying for every mother and baby, and it also may be different every time you attempt to breastfeed; however, it doesn’t have to be a complete guess with the support of an expert, who can help to navigate every bend and curve in the art of breastfeeding.