Six things new mothers should know about breastfeeding
Estimated reading time: 5-7 minutes
The nutrition a baby receives during their first 1,000 days of life isn’t just about food, it’s about life. What they receive then isn’t just about hunger, it can influence how they develop, grow and learn for the rest of their life.
In recent years, the evidence for the advantages of nutrition and breastfeeding in these ‘1,000 days’ – from conception to their second birthday – has exploded, highlighting health and mental benefits that extend well into adulthood. And as such, the World Health Organization now recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months after birth, and complementary foods combined with breastfeeding thereafter up to the age of two years, to ensure healthy growth.
To explore more about the magic of breastfeeding, we spoke with Dr. Vikram Palit from UCL Great Ormond Street Institute of Child Health who shared the following six things he believes mothers should know about breastfeeding this World Breastfeeding Week.
It helps the mom
There is very good evidence that breastfeeding can help reduce the risk of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancers, as well as the risk of future osteoporosis and the hip fractures that come with it. There is also strong evidence that points to breastfeeding helping fight against post-natal depression and anxiety by improving maternal-infant bonding.
It helps the baby
Sometimes it is hard to grasp exactly how much breast milk does. Not only does it contain all the nutritional requirements for a baby for the first six months of life, it also has a host of hormones, infection-fighting cells and antibodies. The list of the medical benefits of breast milk for babies is staggering: it can help reduce the risk of inflammation and infection of the tummy, protect from infection and reduce risk of conditions like stomach bugs, coughs and colds, ear infections, as well as eczema and even childhood leukemia.
It’s not surprising that many mothers say their babies instinctively know to feed more in the few days preceding some sort of illness or infection – they’re filling up their immunity tank.
It helps their bond
The goodness of breastfeeding isn’t only medical though, it’s emotional. The act of breastfeeding is well-known to help deepen and grow the bond between mother and child, partly from the release of hormones and partly from the early physical contact. Early feeding interactions between mother and infant can result in more positive feeding experiences, improved maternal sensitivity and responsiveness to infant needs, and even early childhood behaviours. Mother’s often talk about of the ‘magic ability’ of breastfeeding to soothe away almost every distress, and we often use breastfeeding as effective pain relief for vaccinations for instance.
And it can help weight loss
They’ve just created life, and they’re busy sustaining it, so there shouldn’t be any pressure for women to lose their post-partum weight – but that said, a hidden, silent benefit of breastfeeding is that it does aid weight loss. In the early weeks of feeding, when a baby can feed up to every hour or so, making milk can burn up to 500 calories a day.
There’s always a support network
Mothers – and in particular, new mothers – are often considered some of the most active members of social media, because it’s an easy way to talk about what they may be going through, but also receive support from other moms going through similar situations.
I’ve heard great things about blogs and online communities, like MumsNet.com in the UK, where other mothers, expectant mothers and credible breastfeeding experts – such as midwives and lactation consultants – can lend advice on latching, nipple shields and breast pumps, or simply lend a friendly ear at what can be a very emotional time.
And technology that makes it easier
There are advances in tech that are making things easier, too. There is now a plethora of apps which provide 24/7 support for mothers without the need to travel to a doctor’s surgery. These apps can provide advice on breastfeeding, help moms to track feeds, and even allow midwives to watch struggling moms feeding at home.
Smart home devices are also a key technology, with devices like Google Home providing instant internet breastfeeding advice. This year, Public Health England (PHE) launched ‘Breastfeeding Friend’, a service on Amazon’s Alexa device, which allows moms to ask questions regarding breastfeeding and get answers tailored to their baby’s age.
Breast pumps are improving all the time too, from Philips Avent range of double and on-the-go pumps, to emerging innovations that can now tailor to a mother’s personal breastfeeding methods and make it easier for them to express.
Breastfeeding is one of best ways to give your baby its best start in life, and thankfully, while it’s not always easy, there are many ways to help make it even better.
Please be aware that the information given in these articles is only intended as general advice and should in no way be taken as a substitute for professional medical advice.
About Innovation Matters
Innovation Matters delivers news, opinions and features about healthcare, and is focused on the professionals who work within the industry, as well as Philips as a cutting-edge health technology organization. From interviews with industry giants to how-to guides and features powered by Philips data, our goal is to deliver interesting, educational and entertaining content to empower and inspire all those who work in healthcare or related industries.
Dr Vikram Palit, originally trained in Australia, is a senior teaching fellow with the MSc in Paediatrics and Child health at the UCL Great Ormond Street Hospital Institute of Child Health and a paediatric doctor and clinical innovation fellow at Chelsea and Westminster NHS Foundation Trust, London.