The first and foremost decision a mother makes in the journey of motherhood is the ‘how’ of feeding her kid - of course, a personal decision. But, when you decide to breastfeed, you are providing the ideal nutrition and benefits that will last a lifetime. Research proves that breast milk contains antibodies that reduce the risk of allergies and infections in babies. WHO says that exclusive breastfeeding of babies for the first six months offers the most protection against respiratory illness, diarrhea and ear infections. Breastfeeding and the fear related to it is natural. Learning to breastfeed will take time and requires a lot of patience. I have categorized this article into four segments.
- Benefits of breastfeeding
- Food items that are believed to boost breast milk production
- Natural ways to boost milk production
- Myths about breastfeeding
The benefits that you and you baby reap from breastfeeding is numerous. Here are few breastfeeding benefits for you and your baby.
- WHO recommends that feeding should be initiated within first few hours after birth and colostrum (first milk produced during late pregnancy) as the prefect food for your newborn. It is full of antibodies protecting the newborn against infections and help in expelling the first stools.
- Breastfeeding prevents illnesses and allergies. Studies have proved that the incidences of colds, viruses, fevers are are reduced to a great extent in breastfed babies. The antibodies in breast milk gives the immune system of babies a boost. Exclusively breastfed babies for the first six months, are less likely to be affected by chronic diseases in their later stages of life as well.
- It helps your baby develop a liking for different tastes. The flavor of breast milk will differ with respect to the food you eat. So unlike formula milk, breast milk will prepare your baby for different tastes.
- Bond with your baby - With all the closeness and skin to skin contact, breastfeeding helps to establish a strong bond and a secure relationship with your baby.
- Maintain a healthy weight - It has been proven that breastfeeding reduces the risk of your child becoming obese. When you breastfeed you also burn more calories(around 500 calories a day) and can help you lose the weight you gained during your pregnancy.
- Many studies have concluded that breastfeeding moms are at a lesser risk of postpartum depression. Breastfeeding helps reduce the stress level. When you nurse, your body releases oxytocin that helps you relax.
- Numerous studies have established that breastfeeding also protects woman against ovarian and breast cancer. The longer you feed the more you are protected against these cancers.
- It saves money - Yes. It does save you a lot of money, thousands.
There is no specific food item or special diet that you need to follow while breastfeeding. But, it is very essential to have a healthy balanced diet including- starchy and whole grain food, fresh fruits and vegetables, lean proteins and plenty of water. There is no much scientific researches proving specific food items to increase milk supply. But, the following food items have helped lactating mothers in increasing breast milk supply.
- Dark leafy greens - Spinach and other leafy greens are very rich in calcium, iron, vitamin A and K and folate. Phytoestrogens in dark leafy greens is believed to boost breast milk supply.
- Oats - Oats is packed with calcium and fibre that can increase breast milk supply. It has also been proved that they maintain healthy blood pressure levels and hence aiding in lactation. Include a bowl of oats with milk or oats cookies in your diet
- Nuts - Nuts are rich in protein and essential fatty acids. It is believed that amino acids in nuts help in improving milk production. Among nuts, almonds are the best for improving lactation.
- Fenugreek - Fenugreek/methi seeds is a very common herb that has been used since generations to increase milk production. It is rich in calcium, iron and vitamins. It can be gulped with water or can be added while making dishes like dosa, roti or even tea.
- Milk - Since milk is rich in calcium, it can help in restoring calcium that is lost in breastfeeding and helping in hydration. Thus it improves milk production.
- Garlic - Garlic when used in moderation is said to help increase breast milk supply. Studies have found that mothers who had garlic, nursed their baby more often and for longer duration of time.
- Salmon and sardines- Salmons and sardines are rich in essential fatty acids and omega-3 fatty acids. Even though there is no scientific research to prove EFA and omega-3 fatty acids, it is believed they help in boosting milk supply. Since EFA is a component of breast milk, consuming EFA’s will aid in the production of nutritious milk.
There is no scientific proof that the above mentioned food items help in increasing breast milk. But these food items have been given to feeding mothers for generations in most of the cultures worldwide. And, these food items should always be consumed in moderation and as part of a healthy, balanced diet.
Even though the food you eat affects the quality of milk you produce, stress and other factors can negatively affect your ability to produce milk. Here are few natural ways to increase breast milk production.
- Feed often - Breastfeed often- the more your baby nurses, your breasts are stimulated and more milk your body makes. Especially during the first few weeks, never establish a schedule and let your baby feed as long as he requires. Feed whenever your baby demands. The longer your baby latches, more milk your body will produce.
- Don’t stress, Relax - At one point or another, every new mother might worry that she is not producing enough milk. Many new moms ‘perceive’ that they have low milk supply. This is the most common reason for mothers introducing solid foods or formula feeding. It is extremely rare for mothers to be not able to produce milk. So don’t stress yourself about not producing milk and if you are really worried consult a lactation specialist.
- Feed yourself properly - Try to maintain a healthy and balanced diet. You need an extra 300 to 500 calories each day when you are lactating. Never try to diet as the food you eat is directly related to the quality and the quantity of the milk you produce.
- Switch breasts - Always offer both breasts every time you nurse. Try switching your baby to the other breast as soon as his sucking slows down and swallows less often.Switching breasts at each feed ensures your baby receives high calorie milk and stimulates both the breasts equally.
- Pump - Lactation experts suggest consistent pumping in between feedings as stimulation increases milk production. You can pump after a feeding for up to 5 minutes after all your milk drains. Here are the benefits from pumping- the more you pump the more milk your body makes, allows you to store excess milk and of course you can take a small break!
- Nursing after 12 months doesn’t help, as the quality of the milk reduces - The composition of breast milk changes to meet the needs of your baby as your baby grows . It is main source of nutrition for your baby and helps to boost the not fully developed immune system.
- Frequent nursing might result in obesity of children - Not true. Formula feeding and early solid introduction increases the risk of your baby becoming obese in the later part of their life.
- Nursing can increase stress and postpartum depression - Not true. Breastfeeding and skin to skin contact with your child will help you relax and reduces the chances of postpartum depression.
- Breastfeeding in public is not right - Nonsense! Breastfeeding in public is a legal right, not gross, not indecent or inappropriate in any way.
- Women with small breasts cannot produce milk - The size of the breast or the nipple doesn’t have anything to do with the quality and quantity of breast milk.
Breast milk is the best source of nourishment for infants and young children. It is one of the most effective ways to ensure your newborn’s health. It is extremely rare that mothers cannot produce milk. Almost all the mothers can produce milk provided the right information and support of their family and the society.
There are many groups and forums to empower you with information related to breastfeeding and keep you motivated. BreastFeedingSupportForIndianMoms is one such active facebook group of breast feeding mommies that can help you through this journey with necessary motivation, confidence and information. Do let us know about the groups or communities on breast feeding that you are aware of in the comments.
Share this among all the fellow mommies and the going to be mommies as well. "Breastfeeding is 90% determination and 10% milk production." Happy Parenting!