The early weeks of pregnancy are fragile—and confusing. Here, the answers to your questions.
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Should you breastfeed? Yes. Nothing is better for your baby than breast milk. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that infants consume breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life. Thereafter, breast milk combined with slowly introduced solid foods is recommended through the end of the first year.
Why breast milk is so good: Studies suggest that breastfed babies may be bigger, stronger and, in some cases, smarter than their bottle-fed counterparts. That’s because the nutrients in breast milk are sufficient and complete, perfectly designed for infants. Some nutritional components of breast milk that are not found in formula are especially beneficial. These include cholesterol, an important component of brain tissue and the biochemical basis for many enzymes in the body; and docosahexaenoic acid, which is important for your baby’s brain function and visual and auditory development.
The long-term benefits: Breastfeeding significantly reduces a baby’s risk of lower-respiratory infections, bacterial meningitis, urinary tract infections and many diseases. In fact, studies have shown that even four months of breastfeeding may lower the incidence of some childhood-onset cancers, Crohn’s disease and childhood-onset diabetes.
Mother’s milk also delivers passive and active antibodies to all of the diseases you’ve been exposed to.
What’s in it for you? Benefits for mothers include a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer, as well as an earlier return to prepregnancy weight.
What colostrum does: Colostrum is the first breast milk that your body produces. It comes in just after the baby’s birth and is especially thick and rich in proteins, antibodies, and other ingredients to nourish and protect your child in her first days outside the womb. A few days later, a mother’s body begins to produce mature milk, which can sustain the baby throughout infancy.
How often you should nurse: Most doctors recommend feeding your child “on demand,” or whenever she wants to be fed. A newborn’s stomach is tiny, so she needs to eat every few hours. (If you have trouble breastfeeding, contact a lactation consultant; women who get help tend to breastfeed their babies longer.)
Nursing also often helps your body produce breast milk. “The breast adapts to what the baby needs and produces what the baby can take,” says Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., a pediatrician and neonatologist and director of the Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Study Center at the University of Rochester in New York.
“For some kids, that means a big feeding in the mornings and a lighter feeding later in the day, but it’s different for others.” Your milk supply will adapt to how much and when your baby needs it.