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Breastfeeding: What Is it, Benefits, and Tips

Breastfeeding is the most natural and beneficial way to ensure your baby gets the nutrients they need to grow and thrive. Breastfeeding (also known as nursing) involves feeding a child with milk produced in the breast. During breastfeeding, the baby latches onto the nipple, sucking the milk out of the breast. The breast produces milk as a result of elevated levels of a hormone called prolactin, which stimulates milk production in the mammary glands.

Breastfeeding information, benefits, and how to do it

Breastmilk provides a wealth of vitamins and nutrients that help keep the baby strong. Critical vitamins and minerals contained in breastmilk include thiamin, riboflavin, folate, choline, as well as vitamins B-6, B-12, A, C, D, and E. Breastfed babies are less likely to be obese, have diabetes or asthma, and die from SIDS. Additionally, breastfed babies tend to be more attached to their mothers due to the intimate skin-to-skin contact and the psychological benefits of mother-baby bonding through breastfeeding. Below, we further explore the benefits of breastfeeding, how breastmilk is produced, what is in breastmilk, and how to breastfeed your baby. We also share with you our best breastfeeding tips, as well as advice on improving your milk supply, plus avoiding harmful foods and medicines while breastfeeding.

What is breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is the process of feeding a child with milk produced in the breast. This process is commonly referred to as nursing. During nursing, the baby latches onto the nipple, sucking the milk out of the breast. However, nursing is not limited exclusively to breastfeeding. Mothers with busy schedules or problems with breastfeeding may pump the milk out of their breasts, then feed the breastmilk to their baby through a bottle.

How does the breast produce milk?

The breast produces milk as a result of elevated levels of a hormone called prolactin. Prolactin is always present in the mother’s body, but the pituitary gland increases production of this hormone during ovulation, pregnancy, and nursing. Prolactin stimulates the production and growth of tissues called mammary alveoli. These alveoli constitute the mammary gland, which is where breastmilk is produced and excreted. Prolactin levels remain high as long as the mother continues to nurse, functioning as a regulatory mechanism for breast milk production.

In addition to prolactin, the nursing mother’s body produces a chemical called oxytocin (the same chemical that is released after an orgasm that promotes bonding). Oxytocin tells the tissue surrounding the mammary gland to contract, thereby excreting milk from the sac-like alveoli. After the milk is ejected, it travels down the breast through ducts so the baby can nurse.

What is in breastmilk?

Breastmilk contains a rich variety of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, and minerals that are essential to baby’s growth and development. The proteins in breastmilk fall into three categories: whey, caseins, and mucins. Whey is the dominant protein in breastmilk, however the concentration of whey is even higher in colostrum. The specific functions of these proteins and enzymes are too numerous to mention. However, proteins are vital for cultivating beneficial microflora such as lactobacillus, while inhibiting the growth of harmful yeasts, bacteria, and viruses. Critical proteins found in breastmilk include lactoferrin, IgA, lysozyme, and beta-casein.

In addition to protein, breastmilk is rich in fats such as triglycerides. Fatty acids are critical for infant brain development, as well as the absorption fat-soluble vitamins and minerals. These vitamins include A, D, E, and K. Other critical vitamins (include riboflavin, niacin, vitamins C, B-6, and B-12) are water soluble, and are easily absorbed by breastfed babies due to the high water content of breastmilk.

Breastmilk contains significant amounts of carbohydrates, which constitute a large portion of baby’s intake of calories. The primary carbohydrate in human breastmilk is lactose, which enables babies to more easily absorb important minerals such as magnesium, calcium, and phosphorus. Lactose is one of several oligosaccharides which help regulate your baby’s gut biome and reduce inflammation alongside the proteins present in breastmilk.

Human breastmilk is chock-full of hormones and cells which help your baby’s organs and tissues function. For example, breast milk is known to contain stem cells, which travel throughout the baby’s body to promote development and healing. Additionally, mother’s milk contains white blood cells which kick-start baby’s immune system. Finally, hormones such as oxytocin not only spur on milk production, but foster bonding between mother and infant.

Are colostrum and milk the same thing?

No, colostrum and milk are not the same thing. Colostrum is called “first milk” because the breast develops it before producing standard breast milk. Colostrum is thicker than breast milk, and often has a yellowish hue in comparison. Colostrum is packed with everything your baby needs, just like the later breastmilk that comes in. However, it has higher levels of fat and protein.

Is breastfeeding good for my baby?

Yes, breastfeeding is extremely good for your baby. Breastfeeding provides a wealth of vitamins and nutrients will help keep your baby strong. Critical vitamins and minerals contained in breastmilk include thiamin, riboflavin, folate, choline, as well as vitamins B-6, B-12, A, C, D, and E. According to the CDC, breastfed babies are less likely to be obese, have diabetes or asthma, and die from SIDS. Breastfeeding infants are also less likely to get sick from stomach viruses.

Are breastfed babies more attached to their mothers?

Yes, breastfed babies tend to be more attached to their mothers. The act of breastfeeding produces oxytocin in mom’s body, which transmits to the baby through breastmilk. Additionally, nursing entails intimate skin-to-skin contact, which is associated with greater neurological integration and improved social development. The psychological benefits of mother-baby bonding through breastfeeding are still being studied, but evidence (such as Krol and Grossmann’s 2018 study published in the NCBI) is mounting to support the link.

However, this doesn’t mean that formula-fed babies will not develop an attachment to their mothers. Moms can still use bottle time as bonding time with their little ones. Snuggle your baby, look at them while you feed them, and interact with them while they drink a bottle. Try talking to your baby or singing to them.

Finally, the bond goes both ways. According to the American Psychological Association, extended breastfeeding tends to foster increased maternal sensitivity. Although the phenomenon is still being studied, this makes intuitive sense to many mothers, since the act of breastfeeding is so intimate. Mothers gain valuable experience watching and interacting with their breastfed babies, affording ample opportunity to develop an especial sensitivity to baby’s needs.

How do I breastfeed my baby?

Breastfeed your baby by putting your thumb on the top portion of your nipple and the other fingers on the bottom part of your nipple. Then, bring your baby’s mouth to your breast, letting them latch onto the nipple. As you travel your breastfeeding journey, you’ll discover various methods and ways to hold your baby. For more a more information, see our complete guide on how to breastfeed your baby.

What are the 4 stages of breastfeeding?

There are typically four stages to breastfeeding your baby.

  • Stage 1 “Netflix & Nurse”: The first stage of breastfeeding occurs when you are nursing a newborn. Modern moms playfully refer to this stage as “Netflix & Nurse”. That’s because nursing a newborn baby is essentially a full-time job. You’ll spend a lot of time learning about breastfeeding and sitting down to breastfeed your baby. However, things do get easier as you get used to breastfeeding.
  • Stage 2 “The Awakening”: The next stage is called The Awakening and happens when babies are 3-6 months old. This is when little ones are more alert and want to see and experience everything around them, making breastfeeding more challenging because they don’t want to settle down.
  • Stage 3 “I See the Light”: You and your baby go through a the third breastfeeding stage at 7-12 months. This is commonly referred to as the I See The Light Stage. During this stage, you’ll realize that your baby is barely nursing compared to the newborn stage. They are crawling and exploring the world around them.
  • Stage 4 “The Hunger Games”: Finally, there are The Hunger Games. This final stage happens when your baby reaches a year old and beyond. They’ll want to climb on you, nurse whenever they want, and won’t be as gentle as your newborn. There may be some bruises and bites to deal with. However, babies suddenly start nursing more in this stage.

What is the 5-5-3 rule of breastfeeding?

The 5 5 3 rule of breastfeeding tells nursing moms how soon to use breastmilk that has been pumped. At room temperature, breastmilk should be used within five hours. Breastmilk stored in the fridge should be used within five days. However, you can extend the shelf life of pumped milk up to three months in the freezer.

How much milk does my baby need?

Your newborn baby needs as little as one ounce or as much as three ounces of breast milk daily (depending on weight). As your little one ages, they’ll need more milk. However, this varies depending on your baby’s weight, whether they’re eating solid foods, and how much they were eating during a previous stage. Using a baby feeding chart can give you a more specific answer to help you determine how much milk your baby needs.

Why do some moms have trouble breastfeeding?

Moms have trouble breastfeeding for various reasons, none of which are any cause for shame. The baby may not latch on properly, or moms may have conditions such as inverted nipples that can make breastfeeding challenging. Some babies may gain a taste for formula early on, which develops into a preference for non-breastmilk. (Author’s note: My oldest daughter refused to breastfeed because they gave her a bottle after she was born; all she wanted was formula. Remember that every mom has a story, including why they are having trouble breastfeeding.)

Further reading for breastfeeding moms

The above information is by no means an exhaustive guide to breastfeeding, and it’s in your best interest to conduct further reading.. After all, nursing is a highly complex topic, and each mom-baby pair has unique considerations. Cultivating a wide knowledge base is your key to successfully breastfeeding your child, so below we’ve gathered resources for further reading into breastfeeding tips, milk supply, food and medicine safety while breastfeeding, lifestyle choices for nursing moms, as well as reviews for the myriad breastfeeding products on the market.

Breastfeeding Tips

Below, you will find a repository for our best breastfeeding tips. Breastfeeding is a unique experience for every mom and baby, after all. One mother may swear by the football hold, another will claim that a breastfeeding pillow is the only way to go. Similarly, some babies latch better with one method or another. Whatever the case, reading as many breastfeeding tips as possible helps make your new job more manageable.

Milk Supply

Guarding your milk supply is an essential topic to learn about as you learn about breastfeeding. For example, certain foods and medications can inhibit your breast milk supply. By the same token, other foods encourage milk production, such as fenugreek. These foods are great if you’re having difficulty producing enough milk, but eating them unknowingly can lead to your body making too much milk. Additionally, there are techniques you can use to spur on milk production, pump and store milk in reserve, and prevent your supply from drying up in the first place. Below, we demystify the factors that go into maintaining a healthy milk supply.

Breastfeeding Food Safety

Breastfeeding food safety is an essential thing to know while nursing your baby. Some foods contain harmful contaminants that transmit to your baby, while others simply change the taste of your milk. Take some time to peruse the articles below to learn about which foods and drinks are safe to consume while breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Medicine Safety

Breastfeeding medicine safety is critical information for nursing moms. Most medications make their way into your bloodstream, and thus can transmit to your baby via breastmilk. Knowing which medications pose a risk to the health of your breastfed baby is critical to protecting them. Below, we cover the risks posed by various medications while breastfeeding.

Lifestyle Choices While Nursing

The lifestyle choices you make while nursing can have dramatic impact on the health and development of your baby. Seemingly mundane activities such as using retinol, losing weight, or vaping warrant extra consideration when you’re breastfeeding your baby. Below, our comprehensive guides analyze what risks exist with various lifestyle choices while breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Products

Finding the perfect breastfeeding products for yourself and your little one can be overwhelming. Below, we research, review, and vet various breastfeeding and maternity products you may have been considering. We analyze what each product promises, how it delivers, and whether it is safe and beneficial for you and your baby.