The Benefits of Breastfeeding (A Mother’s Guide)

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Wonder what some of the top benefits of of breastfeeding are?

You're in the right place!

In this guide you can expect to learn:

  • What breastfeed is, and what it isn't.
  • Should you breastfeed?
  • What are the benefits to breastfeeding?
  • What should a mom's diet be while breastfeeding
  • How often and in what positions?
  • And much much more!
benefits of breastfeeding

Nothing can compare to the quietly powerful bonding experience of breastfeeding your baby.

In those tender moments of naked vulnerability, a universal truth emerges: no one could ever love or take care of your baby the way you can.

Yup, you guessed it - we’re super passionate about breastfeeding!

If you're not quite there yet and haven't decided on your chosen method of feeding - or if you just want to learn more about breastfeeding and it's amazing benefits - you've come to the right place!

In this article, we cover everything you need to know about breastfeeding and go over some of the benefits and disadvantages of breastfeeding in the first place.

Let's get into it! 🙂

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What is breastfeeding?

To kick off this guide, a quick look at an overview of breastfeeding is in order.

If you look it up in the dictionary, breastfeeding is defined as a mother feeding her baby "with milk directly from her breasts, rather than with artificial or cow's milk from a bottle."

Whether you breastfeed directly or express your milk, both are perfectly good ways of providing your baby with all the nourishment they need, naturally.

By feeding your baby breastmilk you're giving your baby the very best nutrition they can get - however they get it.​

Should You Breastfeed?

Choosing to breastfeed or bottle feed is a highly personal choice and one that only you can make.

If you're unsure about which option is best for you (and your baby), asking yourself a few questions should bring you one step closer to making this important decision.

Of course, it’s always a good idea to get professional advice from your doctor if you are concerned about any health issues you may have or the health of your baby.

Questions to ask yourself...

Is there any reason I would be unable to breastfeed?

Certain medical conditions make breastfeeding unsuitable. Some medical reasons that make it necessary to consult your doctor before considering breastfeeding are:

  • Active tuberculosis
  • The use of certain chronic medication
  • Chemotherapy and radiation
  • HIV

Can I Afford To Breastfeed?

Breastfeeding your baby costs nothing, whereas formula feeding can be expensive. If you're unsure whether you can afford to formula feed, you should start with breastfeeding. While you can always switch to formula later, if you don't build your milk supply by breastfeeding your baby early on, you may have a hard time producing milk and be unable to return to breastfeeding later.

Is there any reason I wouldn't want to breastfeed?

Some moms choose not to breastfeed before they even try it simply because the idea of it makes them uncomfortable. Before you decide not to breastfeed, take some time to make sure it's for the right reasons.

How Would Breastfeeding Affect My Lifestyle?

While breastfeeding undoubtedly comes with some lifestyle limitations, try to keep in mind that this is only for a short time and the benefits are far reaching and well worth it. On the other hand, if you are sure that your lifestyle is unsuitable for breastfeeding (alcoholism, drug addiction, etc.) and it's more likely to do harm than good, it might be a better idea to consider bottle feeding.

What Are The Benefits of Breastfeeding For Moms and Babies?

We as women are naturally designed to breastfeed our babies and breastmilk is considered a complete and perfect food for babies. There are many benefits to breastfeeding, both for moms and babies.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Moms

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    Helps return uterus to its original size
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    Reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer
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    Breastfeeding releases "feelgood" hormones Prolactin and Oxytocin
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    Burns up to 500 calories per day and may help moms lose weight gained during pregnancy 
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    Reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis by up to 4 times

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies

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    Colostrum productions (aka breastfeeding gold). 

Colostrum is a thick yellowish fluid that your body will only produce for the first 2-4 days of baby's life. This is the most superior form of newborn nutrition and is easily absorbed by babies. Colostrum is extremely nutrient dense and is power packed with antibodies to boost your newborn’s immune system. Colostrum also prepares your baby's tummy to be able to digest breast milk.

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    Promotes bonding
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    Perfect food for babies and is easily digested
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    Contains infection fighting antibodies = fewer and shorter bouts of illness
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    Strengthens immune system
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    Provides your baby with a source of probiotics
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    Fewer cases of babies with food allergies
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    Reduces the risk of babies with SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)
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    Lowers risk of childhood obesity 
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    Decreased risk of type 1 and type 2 diabetes
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    Breastfed babies have been known to have a higher IQ
breastfeeding benefits for moms

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Breastfeeding vs Bottle feeding?​​​

While there's no question that breastfeeding is best for your baby, both methods have their own perks and drawbacks.

Let's take a look at these to see how breastfeeding and bottle feeding stack up against each other.

Breastfeeding

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Advantages and benefits of breastfeeding

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    100% free
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    No need to sterlize
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    Always the perfect temperature
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    Cost effective and immune boosting properties in breastmilk - fewer doctor visits
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    Unbeatable bonding experience
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    Convenient for late night feeds and on the go
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Disadvantages and side effects of breastfeeding

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    Can cause pain and discomfort at first
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    Breastfed babies need more meals because breastmilk digests quickly
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    Breastfeeding in public can be awkward
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    Dietary restrictions - much of what you put into your body will be passed onto your baby
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    Breasts may be painfully engorged if you miss a feed
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    It can be messy at times - moms who produce a lot of milk may leak at time and will need to wear breast pads

Bottle feeding

mom bottle feeding
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Advantages and benefits of bottle feeding

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    Anyone can feed your baby (thanks mom!)
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    Easier to feed in public
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    No dietary restrictions
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    You know exactly how much your baby is eating
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    Fewer feeds - formula takes longer for a babies to digest
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Disadvantages and side effects of bottle feeding

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    Can be expensive to buy everything you need
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    Requires proper sterilization as bottle can spread bacteria
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    Breastfeeding in public can be awkward
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    Dietary restrictions - much of what you put into your body will be passed onto your baby
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    Bottle fed babies are more prone to food allergies
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    Bottle feeding babies doesn't provide antibodies - babies are more likely to suffer from illness and infections
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    Formula feeding leads to increased risk for colic symptoms and digestive problems
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    If mixed incorrectly, baby may get too much (leading to constipation and discomfort) or to little leading (doesn't provide enough nourishment)

Breastfeeding and pumping?

In today's society, mothers aren't always able to be there to breastfeed their babies directly. Many moms have no choice but to go to work.

Pumping is a great way to keep breastmilk production at optimal levels when you can't be around for every feed (the less you breastfeed, the less milk you produce).

Many working moms choose to express their breastmilk so that they can still provide their babies with the best nourishment specifically designed for them.

Some dedicated moms make the commitment to pump their breastmilk everyday because, while they desperately want to breastfeed, some babies just don't seem to be able to latch.

Should you breastfeed?

Only you can answer this question.

Pumping breastmilk isn't the most enjoyable pastime, but the benefits for your baby are definitely worth it.

You should consider pumping if:

  • You want to breastfeed, but have to go back to work
  • Your baby is having latching issues, but you still want to provide them will all the benefits of your breastmilk
  • Your supply is low and you'd like to increase it - the more the demand, the more you produce
  • You're breastfeeding exclusively, but want to enjoy the convenience of allowing others to feed your baby

What's the best way to do it?

While it's possible to express breastmilk by hand, this can be a lengthy and uncomfortable endeavor.

We highly recommend ​​​​using breast pumps. Breast pumps come in two forms:

  • Manual breast pumps require you to hold and physically pump - this can be uncomfortable and your hands may tire quickly. These are best for infrequent use.
  • Electric breast pumps are by far the easiest and fastest way to express breast milk and some models even allow you to pump both breasts at once! All you have to do is choose a setting and place the cup over your nipple - the pump will do the rest for you.

Electric breast pumps are more expensive than the manual variety, but speed and ease of use make them a must if you'll be pumping frequently.

Breastfeeding and your diet?

It's important to follow a healthy, balanced diet while breastfeeding. Getting the proper nutrition will ensure that your baby does too! Certain foods may even boost breastmilk production. Let's take a look at what you should be including in your diet while breastfeeding

Fish

Adding fish to your diet while breastfeeding can be incredibly beneficial for moms and babies. Fish is high in protein, important for growth and muscle development, as well as the omega 3 fatty acids DHA and EPA (essential for healthy brain and eye development) that are difficult to obtain from other sources.

While fish definitely should be part of your diet, those that are high in mercury should be avoided. When too much mercury is passed through your breastmilk and absorbed by baby, it could potentially cause damage to the brain and neurological system.

Low mercury fish include catfish, cod, tilapia, salmon, pollock, canned light tuna and shrimp. Safe amounts of these fish are between 8 - 12 ounces per week.

Albacore tuna should be limited to 6 ounces a week.

High mercury fish to avoid are shark, swordfish, king mackerel and tilefish, especially when caught off the Gulf of Mexico.

Dill seeds

Dill seeds may increase milk production and many breastfeeding moms swear by it. If you'd like to give your breastmilk a boost, you might find adding Dill seeds to your diet useful.

Recommended use:

2 teaspoons raw Dill seeds sprinkled over lunch and dinner Or

2 teaspoons brewed as a tea

Water

Getting enough water is always important and even more so when breastfeeding. Breastmilk is 88% water - wow! Exclusively breastfed babies get all the fluids they need from breastmilk and do not require any additional fluids (water or juices) in the first 6 months. As a rule of thumb, breastfeeding moms should aim to drink at least one glass of water prior to each feed and always keep another glass of water close at hand - breastfeeding is thirsty work!

Green tea

Green tea has many health benefits and is packed with antioxidants.

Unfortunately, it also contains caffeine.

Caffeine can be passed to babies through breastmilk and may cause irritability and restlessness in babies. If the thought of giving up green tea gets you down, take heart - you can still enjoy this healthy drink, just remember to do it in moderation.

As long as you stick to between 1-3 cups of regular green tea a day, your baby shouldn't experience any harmful side effects. It's a good idea to start with one cup at first, just to be on the safe side – or might run the risk dealing with with a grumpy baby hyped up on caffeine!


Rooibos tea

Love tea but you’d rather not risk the side effects of caffeine? Rooibos tea is perfect for breastfeeding moms and is even safe to consume during pregnancy. Originating from South Africa, rooibos tea is chock-full of antioxidants and may even have anti-inflammatory and anti-diabetic properties, among others. The best news? It's completely caffeine free and could be helpful in treating colic, indigestion and insomnia.

Frequency of breastfeeding

Whether you're worried you're not feeding often enough or feel as though all you do is breastfeed, the question of how often you actually need to feed your baby is a common concern for many moms.

While no two babies are the same, the guidelines below loosely fit the needs and feeding patterns of most breastfed babies.

Newborn – 3 months

It's usually recommended to let newborn babies feed on demand. Anywhere between 8-12 feeds spread over 24 hours (usually every 1 ½ - 3 hours) is considered normal and a single feed should last between 20-45 minutes. Don't fret if your baby dozes off early, newborns might need some time to build up to the recommended feeding sessions. Just make sure to always be alert and follow your baby's hunger cues. Frequent during these early days feedings will also help to establish your milk supply.

Somewhere between 1-2 months, the frequency of feeds may drop to between 7-9 times per day. This is perfectly normal and there’s no need for concern. On the other hand, many babies experience a growth spurt around the age of 2 months and might start demanding more frequent (and longer) feeds to keep up with the demands of their rapidly growing bodies and brains.

3 – 6 months

By now your breastmilk supply should be well established. You might notice that your baby is feeding in shorter bursts - don't be alarmed. Most babies start becoming aware of their surroundings around this age and are easily distracted. They’ve also had plenty of practice and most are able to get all the breastmilk they need in much shorter sessions. Most babies at this age will have between 6-8 feeds per day. If your baby seems hungry and asks for more than this, it could be for a number of reasons, such as growth spurts, increased energy output or simply to be close to you. Don’t assume that because your baby is nursing more frequently than another, your milk supply must be inadequate – this is rarely the case.

6 months - 1 year

Now is the recommended time to introduce most babies to solids. At first, your baby might not actually eat very much – this is more of an experimental phase – and there’s no reason to decrease the number of feeds just yet. As your baby starts to take in more solids, you can expect feeds to drop to around 6 times a day, but it’s ok to take it slow at first. Many babies still crave the closeness that comes with breastfeeding and other factors, such as teething or illness may also play a role in the frequency of requested feeds.

1 year and up

Around this age, many babies are down to 1-2 feeds a day. They should be getting most of their nutrition from solids and many are so busy exploring the world around them and testing their independence, that they may not have much interest in breastfeeding. Most babies in this age group will likely still demand to be breastfed at naptimes and at night, though.

Breastfeeding positions

women in breastfeeding position

While breastfeeding is undoubtedly the most natural thing in the world, it certainly isn’t always the easiest!

This is not something many people will bother to tell you and if you’re having a hard time getting the hang of it, don’t give up just yet, You’re not alone - and you’re definitely not a failure. As with all things worth doing in life, it just takes a little practice

Finding the right breastfeeding position can be a great help.

Take a look at some of these popular breastfeeding positions to get you started.

Cradle hold

In this traditional hold, your baby’s entire body should be facing you – this eliminates the need for your baby to strain her neck to reach your breast. Her head should be resting comfortably in the fold of your elbow with her body in your lap. It’s a good idea to rest the arm holding your baby on an armrest or cushion.

Cross-cradle hold

This is a variation of the cradle hold and is especially useful for in the first weeks of breastfeeding. For this hold we suggest you have a cushion placed across your lap. Your baby will be facing you, but instead of resting her head in the fold of your elbow, you will be cradling her head in the hand of your other arm. With the hand holding your baby’s head, gently guide her head towards your nipple. You can use your other hand for support or to hold your breast in place.

Football hold

Also known as the latch hold, this position is useful for babies who have a hard time latching or are very small. Sitting on a sofa or bed, position your baby under your arm and use the same hand to cradle your baby’s head while your forearm supports her upper body. Use the hand holding your baby’s head to guide her mouth towards your nipple.

Side-lying position

Lie down on your side, facing your baby with a cushion (or two) under your head. Keep a rolled up towel or blanket close at hand. With your breast in line with her nose, gently pull your baby towards you while you lean back at the same time. Guide your nipple towards her mouth. Once your baby has latched on, position the rolled up towel behind her back or use your arm to support her.

For more on breastfeeding positions and latching, look here.

When does breastfeeding become less beneficial?

You're probably thinking... 

Well, when should I stop breastfeeding?

This is a personal decision and you shouldn’t allow anyone to pressure you into for longer or shorter than you are comfortable with.

Most healthcare professionals recommend breastfeeding for up to 24 months after birth.

If you and your baby are comfortable with it, extended breastfeeding will still provide benefits for your baby.

While everyone knows that nothing comes close to a mother's love and care, when you breastfeed your baby this knowledge ceases to exist as a mere fact and morphs into a primal intuition that stems from the depths of your soul.

These feelings of overwhelming love often have such a profound effect on breastfeeding moms that, for many, the simple act of feeding their babies becomes nothing short of a spiritual experience.

So... are you ready for it?​

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