Breastfeeding is one of the best gifts you can give your baby. As you prepare to meet your little one and prepare for her first meal, it is important to know what to expect. While babies are born to breastfeed, moms often need support to breastfeed successfully. You should be willing to ask for help as often as you need. Before baby is born, familiarize yourself with where to find help and make sure that the hospital or birthing center where you plan to give birth is breastfeeding-friendly. This means that they will have skilled lactation consultants, breastfeeding counselors or nurses and physicians trained in breastfeeding on staff to help you.
Getting breastfeeding off to a strong start is important and you should plan to begin breastfeeding ASAP after baby is born, ideally within the first hour of giving birth. This ensures your baby will get colostrum, an antibody-concentrated fluid that protects against disease and nourishes your baby until your milk comes in (which may take a few days).
If you need motivation to try breastfeeding, you can learn about the tremendous benefits of breastfeeding for both you and baby. First, breast milk offers your baby all the nutrition he needs, at just the right temperature, in an easy-to-digest formulation and perfect package (in a soft, warm embrace).
Breastfeeding also provides your little one with just the right amount of nutrition he needs as he grows; it operates on a supply and demand system. The more your baby demands, the more your body supplies (and vice-versa), which takes a lot of the guesswork out of feeding. The process also allows for close bonding between you and your baby, helping you stay in sync with his appetite.
What’s more, breast milk is chock full of antibodies that help protect your baby from infections and illness. Some short-term health benefits of breastfeeding include fewer ear infections, diarrhea, bronchitis or pneumonia and eczema. Fast forward a few years, and breastfed babies tend to be at lower risk of asthma, obesity, diabetes, childhood leukemia and the occurrence of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Breastfeeding has health benefits for you as well, such as a lower likelihood of developing type 2 diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer. And it may also help guard you from postpartum depression.
The longer you can breastfeed your baby, the better. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, and then continuing up to your baby’s first birthday while he starts to eat solid food.
You can start to prepare for breastfeeding success with this list from the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Jill Castle is a registered dietitian and childhood nutrition expert. As a former private practice owner, she currently shares her expertise as a writer, speaker and consultant. She is the co-author of Fearless Feeding: How to Raise Healthy Eaters from High Chair to High School and author of the upcoming book Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete (2015). www.JillCastle.com