The Benefits Of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding spent the 20th century – perhaps longer – as a victim of society’s ever-changing fantasies of mechanization, uniformity, and control. On often dubious medical grounds, doctors and corporations have at various times encouraged mothers to bottle-feed their children, a movement that has quite likely done more harm than good. Now the tide seems to be turning back once more, as a generation of self-described ‘lactivists’ preach the word that ‘breast is best’.
They have good reason to support breastfeeding. In breast-milk, evolution has provided us with the perfect foodstuff for babies. Babies which have been breastfed are at lower risk from many medical conditions, such as asthma, diabetes and even breast cancer. It remains unclear exactly how breastfeeding achieves this, but breast milk is known to contain substances which protect against malaria, as well as a mixture of the proteins and amino acids needed for healthy growth. Then there are the psychological benefits, both for the breastfeeding mother and for the child. The closer researchers look, the more benefits they find. In August 2006, researchers in Stockholm made world headlines when they found that breastfed children felt less anxiety in later life.
Spotting Your Baby’s Hunger Signals
How can you recognize when a baby wants to breastfeed? If the baby is crying, the ultimate cause is often that s/he wants the breast. But it is possible to spot signs long before that. A hungry baby might try to grab at your breast (or somebody else’s breast, or anything nearby that looks like a breast!). If there’s no breast nearby, she might resort to stuffing her hands or other objects into her mouth and sucking.
Breastfeeding And Your Lifestyle
It can be very difficult to integrate breastfeeding within modern life. The biggest problem, perhaps, is the need to have your baby with you at all times. If this isn’t possible, you can still make use of ‘expressed milk’. That is, you can pump some of your milk out into a container, and leave it with your baby’s carer. Breast milk stores fairly well if refrigerated – although it is not quite as good for the baby as direct breastfeeding, it is still far superior to infant formula. Regrettably, there is still some stigma attached to breastfeeding in public. How to deal with this is a matter of personal choice – you have the perfect right to breastfeed when and where you need to, but it can still be unpleasant braving the stares as you breastfeed in a public place.
Does Breastfeeding Hurt?
Needless to say, breastfeeding isn’t a painless journey for a mother to take. ‘Engorgement’ (the feeling of heaviness of breasts, which will be felt by a lactating mother) is normal but can be unpleasant for some women, especially for those who are rarely breastfeeding. It can be relieved by removing the milk from the breasts, either by breastfeeding the baby or, where this is not possible, by mechanically pumping out the milk. Sore nipples are another fact of life for the breastfeeding mother – although some pain is inevitable, more serious pain is likely caused by poor positioning of the baby. A slightly less common problem is the blocking of the milk ducts. The problem can usually be solved by massaging the affected area, and by encouraging your baby to drink from the affected breast so as to keep it empty of milk.