Health

Breastfeeding: What You Need to Know Before You Start

When it comes to raising babies, no two women are the same. What works for one mother might not work for another — and that’s completely normal. Depending on your personal circumstances, preferences, and support network, you might find that breastfeeding fits into your life in one way or another. Or perhaps you feel like it won’t fit at all. Either way, there are numerous factors to consider before making the decision to breastfeed your baby. 

If you’re currently pregnant or recently had a baby, the thought of going through labor probably fills you with dread. However, putting off childbirth until later in life comes with its own set of challenges — especially when it comes to breastfeeding. More than any other stage of parenthood, being older makes it more difficult to produce milk supply or get your supply back up when you start feeding again after giving birth.

What Is Breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding is the process of feeding your baby with breast milk, either directly from your breasts or expressed manually from a pump. Breastfeeding comes with a ton of benefits for both mothers and babies, but it isn’t right for every woman. Some women are physically unable to breastfeed their babies, or they may not want to do it for personal reasons such as a desire to return to their pre-pregnancy body shape quickly. 

If you can make breastfeeding work for you and your baby, it’s generally accepted to be the healthiest option. Breastfeeding is the best choice for newborns because it provides them with a source of nutrition that’s easy to digest. It also gives babies valuable antibodies to help protect them from viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding also provides health benefits for moms, such as a lowered risk of certain cancers and postpartum weight loss. It can also help you bond with your baby and regulate your hormones.

Why Can’t All Women Breastfeed?

If you’ve been reading up on breastfeeding and think it’s the best option for you and your baby, it may seem like a given that you’ll be able to do it. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case. 

In fact, only about 73% of American women breastfeed. That’s a pretty large chunk of women who either can’t or choose not to breastfeed — and there are a variety of reasons why. One of them is medical conditions. If you’re dealing with a chronic medical condition, you might find breastfeeding challenging. If you have low immunity, certain infections, or high blood pressure, you’re at higher risk of transmitting these conditions to your baby through your breast milk. If you have an autoimmune disorder like lupus, you may also find it difficult to produce enough breast milk.

When to Start Nursing Your Baby

When you decide to start breastfeeding, you’ll need to determine how long to keep going. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that most babies should be breastfed for around 12 months, but some can continue for as long as 24 months if desired. When you first start breastfeeding, it’s important to keep in mind that babies usually take a while to get the hang of breastfeeding. It can take up to three weeks for your child to get the hang of it. Your baby will probably be very sleepy for the first few weeks after birth as they get used to life outside of your belly and taking in nutrients from breastfeeding. During this time, you may feel like you are doing all the work.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies and Mothers

Breastfeeding is a natural, healthy way to feed your baby, and there are many benefits both you and your infant will experience. Some of the most notable benefits of breastfeeding include: 

  • Reduced risk of infections: Breastfeeding can help lower your baby’s risk of contracting certain infections like ear infections, respiratory infections, and urinary tract infections. It can also help prevent your baby from developing certain allergies or autoimmune disorders later in life. 
  • Healthy digestion: Breastfeeding can also help your baby digest their food properly. Breast milk contains enzymes that help your baby’s intestines break down nutrients. 
  • Protection against obesity: Breastfeeding can help lower your baby’s risk of becoming obese later in life. 
  • Lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): Research has shown that breastfeeding can significantly lower your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Disadvantages of Breastfeeding for Bab

Breastfeeding is a wonderful way to nourish your baby and create a special bond between the two of you. While it’s generally accepted as the healthiest way to feed a baby, breastfeeding isn’t right for everyone. Some women find it difficult to breastfeed, while others choose not to do it at all. Some drawbacks of breastfeeding include: 

  • Lack of privacy: Breastfeeding can be done just about anywhere, but that doesn’t mean it’s practical for many environments. You’ll need to feed your baby frequently, sometimes every couple of hours, which can make it difficult to enjoy social outings. 
  • Cultural taboos: Breastfeeding is predominantly a Western practice, so you’ll have to consider how your cultural beliefs may affect your decision to breastfeed. Breastfeeding isn’t accepted in all cultures, and some people may make you feel uncomfortable when you breastfeed in public.

Conclusion

Breastfeeding is a healthy way to nourish your baby and is recommended by health experts. Yet, only a third of American women breastfeed, and many do find it challenging to continue for the recommended year. If you can, breastfeeding is a great way to feed your baby and provide them with important nutrients. 

Ultimately, you can’t make a decision about breastfeeding until you know what you’re doing and whether or not it works for you and your baby. To make sure you’re prepared, it can be helpful to read up on breastfeeding in advance — and find a support network that can help you through it.

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