Breastfeeding: What You Should Know
Breastfeeding is the act of feeding a baby directly from a mother's breasts. Babies are born with a reflex which enables them to suck instinctively, which in turn stimulates the ducts inside the breast to release milk. Pregnant women begin producing colostrum just before having their babies. This thick, nutrient-rich liquid will gradually turn to breast milk over the days following childbirth. If breastfeeding is not physically possible for the mother or the baby, the milk can be extracted using hand or electric pumping machines.
It is widely accepted that breastfeeding, also called nursing, is the best option for both mother and baby. Organizations like the World Health Organization recommend six months of exclusive breastfeeding. While infant formula is designed to replicate the basic nutrients found in breast milk, certain natural components cannot be duplicated. Breast milk contains the exact balance of nutrients that a growing baby needs; it is easily digested and provides the infant with necessary antibodies that help to fight off infections and chronic diseases. Nursing a newborn also triggers the mother's body to burn calories and shrink the uterus after birth, allowing the mother to return to her pre-pregnancy weight more easily. It has also been shown to be beneficial in preventing cancer and diabetes in both the mother and child.
For many women and children, breastfeeding is a positive experience, but there can also be difficulties with an infant's "latching" technique or the production of milk. Lactation coaches at hospitals and outside support groups exist to help nursing mothers achieve breastfeeding successfully and comfortably.