Leading health organizations throughout the world agree that breast milk represents the nutritional gold standard for infant nutrition, and provides infants the nutrients they need for healthy growth and development. This article provides 5 facts related to breastfeeding that every pregnant or nursing woman should know.
1. Health Benefits for Mom and Baby
Your baby will benefit from your breast milk, and science suggests you will experience short and long-term benefits too. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural (not fool proof) method of birth control, approximately 98 percent protection in the first six months after birth. What’s more, the WHO suggests that nursing also helps to reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes and postpartum depression among mothers.
2. Adapting to meet your baby’s needs
The human body is smart. It knows just what nutrients your baby needs and can change the nutritional content of your breast milk as your baby grows, or day-to-day depending on your baby’s needs. For example, the water content of your milk may change if your baby needs increased hydration on hot days or when battling a cold.
There are many nutrients that remain constant in breast milk and two specifically that are always found together – DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) omega-3 and ARA (arachidonic acid) omega-6. The most rapid period of brain growth occurs during pregnancy and throughout the first two years of life. During these times, infants have the greatest need for DHA and ARA.
3. A well-designed sprinkler system
Did you know that breast milk doesn’t flow like water from a faucet? Instead, your nipples have many holes that spray milk and the exact number varies from mom to mom. If your nipples become sore or cracked, express a little milk onto the nipple and let it air dry to help them heal and repair (1).
4. It takes a village
While your body is well equipped to support the nutritional requirements of your little one, the process can be stressful for new moms. Identify a family member or friend who can be your nursing cheerleader. Reach out to them when you feel stressed or need words of encouragement.
5. Nurturing a bond
Science shows that babies who are breastfed develop a bond with their mothers, which leads to better emotional development and stability in life (2). The skin-to-skin contact that breastfeeding delivers helps to release hormones that help relax you and your little one (3, 4).