An overview of breastfeeding




Breastfeeding is widely believed to be the most beneficial method of feeding
for the health and well being of most infants. It is the natural next step in
the continuum of pregnancy. Though breastfeeding is natural, technique is a
learned skill. As with any skill, the keys to successful breastfeeding are
knowledge, practice and patience. It is important to get started correctly and
know well in advance how to identify and avoid possible problems. Most
breastfeeding problems occur during the first few weeks as mother and baby begin
establishing nursing patterns. It is an important investment for the mother’s
and baby’s continued good health. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition
for an infant. It provides all the nutrition needs during the first six to
twelve months of life.

Breastfeeding offers newborns emotional as well as nutritional benefits.
Skin-to-skin contact helps to reduce the stress babies experience as they enter
the world from the security of the womb. Tension quickly subsides as the sight
of the mother’s face and the familiar sounds of her breathing, voice, and
heartbeat comfort the baby. This begins the important process of mother and baby

Breast Milk Production

Milk is produced and stored in the glandular tissues called alveoli of the
breasts. It collects in the pockets known as lactiferous sinuses located beneath
the areola until it is released by a baby’s sucking. Stimulation of the
nipples cause the mother’s pituitary gland, located in the brain, to secret
prolactin. This initiates and maintains milk production.

The first milk the newborn receives at each feeding is the milk that has
collected in the lactiferous sinuses between feedings. This low fat foremilk is
high in protein and satisfies the newborn’s thirst. As breastfeeding
continues, a second hormone called oxytocin is secreted. Oxytocin causes the
tissue around the alveoli to contract, thus squeezing high fat hindmilk down the
ducts and into the pockets where it is available to satisfy the newborn’s
hunger. Many mothers experience a tingling or rushing sensation in the breast as
this “let down” or milk ejection reflex (MER) occurs. Other mothers notice
only that sucking becomes longer and slower and that the newborn begins to
swallow rhythmically. Keys to establishing a quick letdown are relaxation and
confidence that the mother’s body is doing exactly what it was designed to do.

Composition of Breast Milk

During pregnancy, the mother’s body produces a substance called Colostrum.
This clear to creamy to golden yellow substance is found in the breasts during
pregnancy. Between the third and sixth day after birth, hormonal patterns of the
mother change rapidly. These changes cause colostrum to change to a transitional
form of breast milk. During this time, the amount of protein and immune factors
in the milk gradually decrease while fat, lactose and calories in the milk
increase. By the tenth day after birth, the mother produces mature breast milk,
which is also commonly referred to as human milk.

Health Advantages Of Breastfeeding Your Baby

Colostrum is the perfect starter food for babies. It is high in protein, zinc
and other minerals. It contains less fat, carbohydrates and calories than breast
milk. Colostrum acts as a natural laxative to clear the meconium (first stool)
from the baby’s intestine. This decreases the chances of jaundice. It also
contains the natural sugar lactose, which helps stabilize the newborn’s blood
sugar level, preventing hypoglycemia. Lactose is used in tissues of the brain
and spinal cord, and it provides the infant with energy. Bacteria in the infant’s
intestines feed on lactose and produce B vitamins. Lactose may also help the
infant absorb essential nutrients such as calcium, phosphorus and magnesium.

Breast milk from most women has the same nutrients. The proteins in human
breast milk are mostly whey and casein. Cows milk contains more casein, and
human breast milk contains more whey. Whey is more easily tolerated by an infant’s
digestive system. The fat in human breast milk is easily absorbed by an infant’s
digestive system. An enzyme called lipoprotein lipase helps an infant absorb the
fat in breast milk. A mother’s breast milk contains essential fats and
cholesterol. Both are needed by infants to make tissues of the nervous system.
The amount of fat in breast milk rises significantly at the end of a breast
feeding session. This may be nature’s way of making an infant feel full and
stop feeding.

Breast milk contains only a small amount of iron, but the iron in breast milk
is easily absorbed. Fifty percent of the iron in breast milk is absorbed
compared with only four to ten percent of the iron in cows milk or commercial
infant formulas.