Article @ www.webmd.com
Making the decision to breastfeed is a personal matter. It's also one that's likely to draw strong opinions from friends and family.
Many medical authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, strongly recommend breastfeeding. But you and your baby are unique, and the decision is up to you. This overview of breastfeeding can help you decide.
What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for Your Baby?
Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat -- everything your baby needs to grow. And it's all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby's risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. What's more, the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It's been thought to lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers as well, but more research is needed.
Are There Breastfeeding Benefits for the Mother?
Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may lower your risk of osteoporosis, too.
Since you don't have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples, or warm bottles, it saves you time and money. It also gives you regular time to relax quietly with your newborn as you bond.
Will I Make Enough Milk to Breastfeed?
The first few days after birth, your breasts make an ideal "first milk." It's called colostrum. Colostrum is thick, yellowish, and scant, but there's plenty to meet your baby's nutritional needs. Colostrum helps a newborn's digestive tract develop and prepare itself to digest breast milk.
Most babies lose a small amount of weight in the first 3 to 5 days after birth. This is unrelated to breastfeeding.
As your baby needs more milk and nurses more, your breasts respond by making more milk. Experts recommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for 6 months. If you supplement with formula, your breasts might make less milk.
Even if you breastfeed less than the recommended 6 months, it's better to breastfeed for a short time than no time at all. You can add solid food at 6 months but also continue to breastfeed if you want to keep producing milk.
What's the Best Position for Breastfeeding?
The best position for you is the one where you and your baby are both comfortable and relaxed, and you don't have to strain to hold the position or keep nursing. Here are some common positions for breastfeeding your baby:
How Do I Get My Baby to 'Latch on' During Breastfeeding?
Position your baby facing you, so your baby is comfortable and doesn't have to twist his neck to feed. With one hand, cup your breast and gently stroke your baby's lower lip with your nipple. Your baby's instinctive reflex will be to open the mouth wide. With your hand supporting your baby's neck, bring your baby's mouth closer around your nipple, trying to center your nipple in the baby's mouth above the tongue.
You'll know your baby is "latched on" correctly when both lips are pursed outward around your nipple. Your infant should have all of your nipple and most of the areola, which is the darker skin around your nipple, in his mouth. While you may feel a slight tingling or tugging, breastfeeding should not be painful. If your baby isn't latched on correctly and nursing with a smooth, comfortable rhythm, gently nudge your pinky between your baby's gums to break the suction, remove your nipple, and try again. Good "latching on" helps prevent sore nipples.
What Are the ABCs of Breastfeeding?
In a few situations, breastfeeding could cause a baby harm. You should not breastfeed if:
Are There Medical Considerations With Breastfeeding? continued...
Talk with your doctor before starting to breastfeed if you're taking prescription drugs of any kind. Your doctor can help you make an informed decision based on your particular medication.
Having a cold or flu should not prevent you from breastfeeding. Breast milk won't give your baby the illness and may even give antibodies to your baby to help fight off the illness.
Also, the AAP suggests that -- starting at 4 months of age -- exclusively breastfed infants, and infants who are partially breastfed and receive more than one-half of their daily feedings as human milk, should be supplemented with oral iron. This should continue until foods with iron, such as iron-fortified cereals, are introduced in the diet. The AAP recommends checking iron levels in all children at age 1.
Discuss supplementation of both iron and vitamin D with your pediatrician. She can guide you on recommendations about the proper amounts, when to start, and how often supplements should be given.
Why Do Some Women Choose Not to Breastfeed?
What Are Some Common Challenges With Breastfeeding?
Where Can I Get Help With Breastfeeding?
Images of mothers breastfeeding their babies make it look simple -- but most women need some help and coaching. It can come from a nurse, doctor, family member, or friend, and it helps mothers get over possible bumps in the road.
Reach out to friends, family, and your doctor with any questions you may have. Most likely, the women in your life have had those same questions.
Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding
Choosing whether to breastfeed or formula feed their baby is one of the biggest decisions expectant and new parents will make.
A number of health organizations — including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American Medical Association (AMA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) — recommend breastfeeding as the best choice for babies. Breastfeeding helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against a number of chronic conditions.
The AAP recommends that babies be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months. Beyond that, breastfeeding is encouraged until at least 12 months, and longer if both the mother and baby are willing.
Although experts believe breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants, breastfeeding may not be possible for all women. For many, the decision to breastfeed or formula feed is based on their comfort level, lifestyle, and specific medical situations.
For mothers who are unable to breastfeed or who decide not to, infant formula is a healthy alternative. Formula provides babies with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
Some mothers worry that if they don't breastfeed, they won't bond with their baby. But the truth is, loving mothers will always create a special bond with their children. And feeding — no matter how — is a great time to strengthen that bond.
The decision to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is a personal one. Weighing the pros and cons of each method can help you decide what is best for you and your baby.
All About Breastfeeding
Nursing can be a wonderful experience for both mother and baby. It provides ideal nourishment and a special bonding experience that many mothers cherish.
Here are some of the many benefits of breastfeeding:
Fighting infections and other conditions. Breastfed babies have fewer infections and hospitalizations than formula-fed infants. During breastfeeding, antibodies and other germ-fighting factors pass from a mother to her baby and strengthen the immune system. This helps lower a baby's chances of getting many infections, including:Breastfeeding also may protect babies against:Breastfeeding is particularly beneficial for premature babies.
Nutrition and ease of digestion. Often called the "perfect food" for a human baby's digestive system, breast milk's components — lactose, protein (whey and casein), and fat — are easily digested by a newborn.
As a group, breastfed infants have less difficulty with digestion than do formula-fed infants. Breast milk tends to be more easily digested so that breastfed babies have fewer bouts of diarrhea or constipation.
Breast milk also naturally contains many of the vitamins and minerals that a newborn requires. One exception is vitamin D — the AAP recommends that all breastfed babies begin receiving vitamin D supplements during the first 2 months and continuing until a baby consumes enough vitamin D-fortified formula or milk (after 1 year of age).
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) regulates formula companies to ensure they provide all the necessary nutrients (including vitamin D) in their formulas. Still, commercial formulas can't completely match breast milk's exact composition. Why? Because milk is a living substance made by each mother for her individual infant, a process that can't be duplicated in a factory.
Free. Breast milk doesn't cost a cent, while the cost of formula quickly adds up. And unless you're pumping breast milk and giving it to your baby, there's no need for bottles, nipples, and other supplies that can be costly. Since breastfed babies are less likely to be sick, that may mean they make fewer trips to the doctor's office, so fewer co-pays and less money are paid for prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.
Different tastes. Nursing mothers usually need 500 extra calories per day, which means they should eat a wide variety of well-balanced foods. This introduces breastfed babies to different tastes through their mothers' breast milk, which has different flavors depending on what their mothers have eaten. By tasting the foods of their "culture," breastfed infants more easily accept solid foods.
Convenience. With no last-minute runs to the store for more formula, breast milk is always fresh and available whether you're home or out and about. And when women breastfeed, there's no need to wash bottles and nipples or warm up bottles in the middle of the night.
Smarter babies. Some studies suggest that children who were exclusively breastfed have slightly higher IQs than children who were formula fed.
"Skin-to-skin" contact. Many nursing mothers really enjoy the experience of bonding so closely with their babies. And the skin-to-skin contact can enhance the emotional connection between mother and infant.
Beneficial for mom, too. The ability to totally nourish a baby can help a new mother feel confident in her ability to care for her baby. Breastfeeding also burns calories and helps shrink the uterus, so nursing moms may be able to return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight quicker. Also, studies show that breastfeeding helps lower the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and also may help decrease the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding can be easy from the get-go for some mothers, but take a while to get used to for others. Moms and babies need plenty of patience to get used to the routine of breastfeeding.
Common concerns of new moms, especially during the first few weeks and months, may include:
Personal comfort. Initially, many moms feel uncomfortable with breastfeeding. But with proper education, support, and practice, most moms overcome this.
Latch-on pain is normal for the first week to 10 days, and should last less than a minute with each feeding. But if breastfeeding hurts throughout feedings, or if their nipples and/or breasts are sore, it's a good idea for breastfeeding mothers to get help from a lactation consultant or their doctor. Many times, it's just a matter of using the proper technique, but sometimes pain can mean that something else is going on, like an infection.
Time and frequency of feedings. Breastfeeding requires a big time commitment from mothers, especially in the beginning, when babies feed often. A breastfeeding schedule or the need to pump breast milk during the day can make it harder for some moms to work, run errands, or travel.
And breastfed babies do need to eat more often than babies who take formula, because breast milk digests faster than formula. This means mom may find herself in demand every 2 or 3 hours (maybe more, maybe less) in the first few weeks.
Diet. Women who are breastfeeding need to be aware of what they eat and drink, since these can be passed to the baby through the breast milk. Just like during pregnancy, breastfeeding women should not eat fish that are high in mercury and limit consumption of lower mercury fish.
If a mom drinks alcohol, a small amount can pass to the baby through breast milk. She should wait at least 2 hours after a single alcoholic drink to breastfeed to avoid passing any alcohol to the baby. Caffeine intake should be kept to no more than 300 milligrams (about one to three cups of regular coffee) or less per day because it can cause problems like restlessness and irritability in some babies.
Maternal medical conditions, medicines, and breast surgery. Medical conditions such as HIV or AIDS or those that involve chemotherapy or treatment with certain medicines can make breastfeeding unsafe. A woman should check with her doctor or a lactation consultant if she's unsure if she should breastfeed with a specific condition. Women should always check with the doctor about the safety of taking medicines while breastfeeding, including over-the-counter and herbal medicines.
Mothers who've had breast surgery, such as a reduction, may have difficulty with their milk supply if their milk ducts have been severed. In this situation, a woman should to talk to her doctor about her concerns and work with a lactation specialist.
All About Formula Feeding
Commercially prepared infant formulas are a nutritious alternative to breast milk, and even contain some vitamins and nutrients that breastfed babies need to get from supplements.
Manufactured under sterile conditions, commercial formulas attempt to duplicate mother's milk using a complex combination of proteins, sugars, fats, and vitamins that aren't possible to create at home. So if you don't breastfeed your baby, it's important to use only commercially prepared formula and not try to make your own.
Besides medical concerns that may prevent breastfeeding, for some women, breastfeeding may be too difficult or stressful. Here are other reasons women may choose to formula feed:
Convenience. Either parent (or another caregiver) can feed the baby a bottle at any time (although this is also true for women who pump their breast milk). This allows mom to share the feeding duties and helps her partner to feel more involved in the crucial feeding process and the bonding that often comes with it.
Flexibility. Once the bottles are made, a formula-feeding mother can leave her baby with a partner or caregiver and know that her little one's feedings are taken care of. There's no need to pump or to schedule work or other obligations and activities around the baby's feeding schedule. And formula-feeding moms don't need to find a private place to nurse in public.
Time and frequency of feedings. Because formula is less digestible than breast milk, formula-fed babies usually need to eat less often than breastfed babies.
Diet. Women who opt to formula feed don't have to worry about the things they eat or drink that could affect their babies.
Formula Feeding Challenges
As with breastfeeding, there are some challenges to consider when deciding whether to formula feed.
Lack of antibodies. None of the antibodies found in breast milk are in manufactured formula. So formula can't provide a baby with the added protection against infection and illness that breast milk does.
Can't match the complexity of breast milk. Manufactured formulas have yet to duplicate the complexity of breast milk, which changes as the baby's needs change.
Planning and organization. Unlike breast milk — which is always available, unlimited, and served at the right temperature — formula feeding your baby requires planning and organization to make sure that you have what you need when you need it. Parents must buy formula and make sure it's always on hand to avoid late-night runs to the store.
And it's important to always have the necessary supplies (like bottles and nipples) clean, easily accessible, and ready to go — otherwise, you will have a very hungry, very fussy baby to answer to. With 8-10 feedings in a 24-hour period, parents can quickly get overwhelmed if they're not prepared and organized.
Expense. Formula can be costly. Powdered formula is the least expensive, followed by concentrated, with ready-to-feed being the most expensive. And specialty formulas (such as soy and hypoallergenic) cost more — sometimes far more — than the basic formulas. During the first year of life, the cost of basic formula can run about $1,500.
Possibility of producing gas and constipation. Formula-fed babies may have more gas and firmer bowel movements than breastfed babies.
Making a Choice
Deciding how you will feed your baby is not an easy decision to make. You'll really only know the right choice for your family once your baby comes.
Many women decide on one method before the birth and then change their minds once their baby is born, or in the weeks or months after. And many women decide to breastfeed and supplement with formula because they find that is the best choice for their family and their lifestyle.
While you're weighing the pros and cons, talk to your doctor or lactation consultant. These health care providers can give you more information about the options available and help you make the best decision for your family.
Reviewed by: Elana Pearl Ben-Joseph, MD Date reviewed: February 2015
Getting ready for the birth of your baby is an exciting and busy time. One of the most important decisions you will make is how to feed your baby.
Deciding to breastfeed can give your baby the best possible start in life. Breastfeeding benefits you and your baby in many ways. It also is a proud tradition of many cultures.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
In general, the longer you breastfeed, the greater the benefits will be to you and your baby, and the lonfer these benefits will last.
Why is breastfeeding so good for my baby?
Breastfeeding is good for your baby because:
1. Breastfeeding provides warmth and closeness. The physical contact helps create a special bond between you and your baby.
2. Human milk has many benefits.
Breastfeeding is good for your health because it helps:
Breastmilk gives your baby more than just good nutrition. It also provides important substances to fight infection. Breastfeeding has medical and psychological benefits for both of you. For many mothers and babies, breastfeeding goes smoothly from the start. For others, it takes a little time and several attempts to get the process going effectively. Like anything new, breastfeeding takes some practice. This is perfectly normal. If you need help, ask the doctors and nurses while you are still in the hospital, your pediatrician, a lactation specialist, or a breastfeeding support group.
Last Updated 5/5/2015
Source Breastfeeding Your Baby (Copyright © 2005 American Academy of Pediatrics, Updated 8/2012)
Breastfeeding Benefits Your Baby's Immune System
Human milk provides virtually all the protein, sugar, and fat your baby needs to be healthy, and it also contains many substances that benefit your baby’s immune system, including antibodies, immune factors, enzymes, and white blood cells. These substances protect your baby against a wide variety of diseases and infections not only while he is breastfeeding but in some cases long after he has weaned. Formula cannot offer this protection.
If you develop a cold while breastfeeding, for example, you are likely to pass the cold germs on to your baby—but the antibodies your body produces to fight that cold also will be passed on through your milk. These antibodies will help your infant conquer the cold germs quickly and effectively and possibly avoid developing the cold altogether.
This defense against illnesses significantly decreases the chances that your breastfeeding baby will suffer from ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, or certain types of spinal meningitis. Infants under the age of one who breastfed exclusively for at least four months, for instance, were less likely to be hospitalized for a lower respiratory tract infection, such as croup, bronchiolitis, or pneumonia, than were their formula-fed counterparts. Even infants in group child care programs, who tend to catch more germs due to their close proximity, are less likely to become ill if they are breastfed or fed their mothers’ milk in a bottle.
All humans have a very large number of bacteria that normally reside in their intestines. Some of the bacteria serve normal and healthy functions, and some can cause disease such as diarrhea. Human milk encourages the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract of the breastfed baby. It does this by promoting a generally healthy environment and, in part, through substances called prebiotics, which are found in human milk. Since human milk stimulates the growth of these “friendly” strains of bacteria, other bacteria such as E. coli, which are more likely to cause disease, are inhibited from growing, multiplying, and attaching to the lining of the intestine, where they can cause infection. It has been well established that formula-fed infants have much higher rates of diarrheal diseases which may require visits to the doctor or sometimes to the hospital for intravenous fluids.
Breastfeeding and Allergies
Breastfeeding is recommended for many reasons. With regard to allergy prevention, there is some evidence that breastfeeding protects babies born to families with a history of allergies, compared to those babies who are fed either a standard cow’s milk based formula or a soy formula. In these “at risk” families, breastfed babies generally had a lower risk of milk allergy, atopic dermatitis (commonly known as eczema), and wheezing early in life, if they were exclusively breastfed for at least four months. It is presumed that immune components in maternal milk provide protection against these allergic diseases. Although the long-term benefits of breastfeeding on allergies remains unclear and studies have not carefully evaluated the impact on families without a history of allergy, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended as the feeding of choice for all infants.
Transfer of the human milk antibodies and other immunologic substances may also explain why children who breastfeed for more than six months are less likely to develop childhood acute leukemia and lymphoma than those who receive formula. In addition, studies have demonstrated a 36 percent reduction (some studies show this reduction to be as high as 50 percent) in risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) among babies who breastfeed compared to those who did not, though the reasons for this are not fully understood. Recent research even indicates that breastfed infants are less likely to be obese in adolescence and adulthood. They are also less vulnerable to developing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Last Updated 5/5/2015
Source New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding, 2nd Edition (Copyright © 2011 American Academy of Pediatrics)
How breastfeeding benefits you and your baby
Breast milk is best for your baby, and the benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond basic nutrition. In addition to containing all the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs in the first six months of life, breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect your baby from illness.
That's one reason the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months (although any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial). And scientific studies have shown that breastfeeding is good for your health, too. Here's a look at some of the most important benefits breastfeeding offers you and your baby.
Breastfeeding protects your baby from a long list of illnesses
Numerous studies from around the world have shown that stomach viruses, lower respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and meningitis occur less often in breastfed babies and are less severe when they do happen. Exclusive breastfeeding (meaning no solid food, formula, or water) for at least six months seems to offer the most protection.
10 tips for breastfeeding success
Watch a lactation consultant help a new mom learn how to breastfeed her baby.
One large study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences showed that children who are breastfed have a 20 percent lower risk of dying between the ages of 28 days and 1 year than children who weren't breastfed, with longer breastfeeding associated with lower risk.
The main immune factor at work here is a substance called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) that's present in large amounts in colostrum, the first milk your body produces for your baby. (Secretory IgA is present in lower concentrations in mature breast milk.) The substance guards against invading germs by forming a protective layer on the mucous membranes in your baby's intestines, nose, and throat.
Your breast milk is specifically tailored to your baby. Your body responds to pathogens (virus and bacteria) that are in your body and makes secretory IgA that's specific to those pathogens, creating protection for your baby based on whatever you're exposed to.
Breastfeeding's protection against illness lasts beyond your baby's breastfeeding stage, too. Studies have shown that breastfeeding can reduce a child's risk of developing certain childhood cancers. Scientists don't know exactly how breast milk reduces the risk, but they think antibodies in breast milk may give a baby's immune system a boost.
Breastfeeding may also help children avoid a host of diseases that strike later in life, such as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and inflammatory bowel disease. In fact, preemies given breast milk as babies are less likely to have high blood pressure by the time they're teenagers.
For babies who aren't breastfed, researchers have documented a link between lack of breastfeeding and later development of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
Breastfeeding can protect your baby from developing allergies
Babies who are fed a formula based on cow's milk or soy tend to have more allergic reactions than breastfed babies.
Scientists think that immune factors such as secretory IgA (only available in breast milk) help prevent allergic reactions to food by providing a layer of protection to a baby's intestinal tract. Without this protection, inflammation can develop and the wall of the intestine can become "leaky." This allows undigested proteins to cross the gut where they can cause an allergic reaction and other health problems.
Babies who are fed formula rather than breast milk don't get this layer of protection, so they're more vulnerable to inflammation, allergies, and other eventual health issues.
Breastfeeding may boost your child's intelligence
Various researchers have found a connection between breastfeeding and cognitive development. In a study of more than 17,000 infants followed from birth to 6 1/2 years, researchers concluded from IQ scores and other intelligence tests that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding significantly improves cognitive development.
Another study of almost 4,000 children showed that babies who were breastfed had significantly higher scores on a vocabulary test at 5 years of age than children who were not breastfed. And the scores were higher the longer they had been nursed.
Preterm infants with extremely low birth weight who received breast milk shortly after birth improved their mental development scores at 18 months when compared with preterm infants who weren't given breast milk. In a later study, researchers found that the higher scores held at 30 months, and that the babies who received breast milk were also less likely to be hospitalized again because of respiratory infections.
Experts say that the emotional bonding that takes place during breastfeeding probably contributes to some of the brainpower benefits, but that the fatty acids in breast milk may play the biggest role.
Breastfeeding may protect your child from obesity
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding as a way to help reduce your child's risk of becoming overweight or obese. An analysis of 17 studies published in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that breastfeeding reduces a child's risk of becoming overweight as a teen or adult. The strongest effect is in children who were exclusively breastfed, and the longer the baby was breastfed the stronger the link.
Experts think that breastfeeding may affect later weight gain for several reasons:
A large German study published in 2009 found that breastfeeding – either exclusively or partially – is associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The researchers concluded that exclusive breastfeeding at 1 month of age cut the risk of SIDS in half.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends breastfeeding for as long as possible to reduce the risk of SIDS.
Breastfeeding can reduce your stress level and your risk of postpartum depression
The National Institutes of Health reviewed more than 9,000 study abstracts and concluded that women who didn't breastfeed or who stopped breastfeeding early on had a higher risk of postpartum depression.
Many women report feeling relaxed while breastfeeding. That's because nursing triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. Numerous studies in animals and humans have found that oxytocin promotes nurturing and relaxation. (Oxytocin released while nursing also helps your uterus contract after birth, resulting in less postpartum bleeding.)
One study found that women who had high amounts of oxytocin in their system (50 percent of breastfeeding moms as opposed to 8 percent of bottle-feeding moms) had lower blood pressure after being asked to talk about a stressful personal problem.
By the way, if you're being treated for depression, you can still breastfeed your baby. Your healthcare practitioner can help you identify safe ways to treat your depression while nursing.
Breastfeeding may reduce your risk of some types of cancer
Numerous studies have found that the longer women breastfeed, the more they're protected against breast and ovarian cancer. For breast cancer, nursing for at least a year appears to have the most protective effect.
It's not entirely clear how breastfeeding helps, but it may have to do with the structural changes in breast tissue caused by breastfeeding and the fact that lactation suppresses the amount of estrogen your body produces. Researchers think the effect on ovarian cancer may be related to estrogen suppression as well.
Studies are finding new benefits of breastfeeding all the time. The May 2010 issue of Pediatrics, for example, published a study showing that babies who are breastfed are less likely to have fevers after their immunizations than babies who are formula fed.
Breastfeeding is natural – but that doesn't necessarily mean it's easy. Don't hesitate to contact your healthcare provider or a certified lactation consultant if you need help or support.
You can also get help from our Breastfeeding Problem Solver, ask questions in our Breastfeeding support and help group, and learn more about breastfeeding basics, including ways to hold your baby while breastfeeding.
Omega-3 Intake and Breastfeeding
Mom’s omega-3 fatty acid status is a major determinant of the omega-3 content of her breast milk and her DHA status is influenced strongly by diet [1-8]. In fact, breast milk DHA levels have been shown to have a dose-response relationship with mom’s fish consumption, which is high in DHA (i.e., the more fish mom ate, the higher her DHA levels were) . This is important because breast milk DHA seems to have a greater influence on baby’s omega-3 status than direct supplementation with fish oil .
Unfortunately, there is a clear decline of mom’s DHA levels after birth [11, 12]. This loss of DHA is reversible with DHA supplementation as supplementation during breastfeeding increases breast milk DHA content [3, 10, 11, 13-20]. Supplementation with flax oil, a source alpha linolenic acid (ALA) that acts as a precursor for DHA, does indeed increase breast milk ALA content but has little effect on breast milk DHA content . Because of the low conversion rates of ALA to DHA, it may be more efficient to increase DHA status through increasing fish consumption or supplementation with pre-formed DHA to optimize mom’s DHA status .
Optimizing mom’s DHA status is important because early accumulation of omega-3 fatty acids may contribute to some improved health and behavioral outcomes in babies and children.
Benefits of omega-3 fatty acids during breastfeeding
Higher intake of omega-3 fatty acids or improved omega-3 status in moms throughout breastfeeding may possibly lead to improved health in infants and children, such as:
Accelerated attention and cognitive functions [23-25]; A decrease in allergies, respiratory illness, and eczema [26-31]; and Improved immune factors and responses [32-36].
Recommended dosage of omega-3 fatty acids throughout breastfeeding
The position of the American Dietetic Association and Dietitians of Canada is that adults should consume a combined intake of 500 mg per day of DHA and EPA, based on an intake of 2000 kcal per day . Specific recommendations for DHA intakes throughout breastfeeding for North Americans are limited to those made by the International Society for the Study of Fatty Acids and Lipids working group, which recommends a minimum of 300 mg per day .
Current consumption of DHA throughout breastfeeding
The mean DHA intake in Canadian women is 82 mg per day with 90% of women consuming less than 300 mg per day throughout breastfeeding . This is reflected in lower breast milk DHA concentrations, with women in North America having breast milk DHA concentrations significantly lower than some coastal Chinese women [40, 41]. Vegan vegetarians, who consume no animal products, are at particularly high risk of having low milk DHA contents . The range in breast milk DHA is thought to reflect mainly the variations in maternal DHA intake since populations with high fish intakes also have the highest milk DHA content [1, 9, 43]. Unfortunately, the composition of breast milk seems to be changing with declining DHA levels [43, 44]. Therefore, supplementation with DHA is something that breastfeeding moms could consider to improve her breast milk DHA levels.
When to take omega-3 supplements to optimize breast milk DHA levels
DHA supplementation during pregnancy has been reported to increase breast milk DHA content [17, 45, 46] and DHA supplementation throughout breastfeeding has been reported to increase breast milk DHA content [3, 10, 11, 13-20]. Importantly, supplementation throughout both pregnancy and breastfeeding appears to be more effective in raising breast milk DHA content than supplementation during pregnancy alone . Since it is unknown whether supplementation after birth can correct fully for prenatal deficiency, it seems appropriate to ensure an adequate maternal intake throughout both pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Safety profile of DHA in pregnancy and lactation
Some reported discomfort has been associated with the intake of omega-3 capsules in pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding, such as belching and unpleasant taste [48, 49] but these side effects are not specific to pregnancy and breastfeeding. In a consensus statement, the PERILIP (Perinatal Lipid Intake working group) together with the Early Nutrition Programming Project states that intakes of up to 1 gram daily of DHA or 2.7 grams daily of omega-3 fatty acids in pregnancy and throughout breastfeeding have been used in randomized clinical trials without significant adverse effects .
DHA is an extremely important omega-3 fatty acid that is considered safe throughout breastfeeding. Adequate intake of DHA throughout breastfeeding may be important to support baby’s optimal development while also serving a possible role in reducing allergic-type illnesses and improving immune functioning.
DHA supplements for breastfeeding mother
By Kelly Bonyata, IBCLC
At present, there is a major marketing effort aimed at getting pregnant and breastfeeding women to take DHA supplements (the same supplements that are being marketed in the newer baby formulas).
Here’s a quick rundown on what DHA is: Mammals do not manufacture their own polyunsaturated fatty acids. Two of the polyunsaturated fatty acids, Omega-6 (linoleic acid is the primary source) and Omega-3 (alpha-linolenic acid is the primary source), are considered to be essential fatty acids (EFAs) and have numerous health benefits. Deficiencies of either of these essential fatty acids are extremely rare in the United States and Canada. We convert these essential fatty acids in our bodies to other needed fatty acids, which we can also get from food sources. Gamma-linolenic acid (GLA) and arachidonic acid (ARA) are made from linoleic acid; and alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) are made from alpha-linolenic acid.
Babies, however, generate the fatty acids such as ARA and DHA more slowly than adults and thus need to get some via diet (i.e., breastmilk). In addition, there is evidence that adults eating a typical American diet do not get a large enough percentage of the Omega-3 fatty acids.
There is no evidence whatsoever that breastmilk is deficient in DHA, and there is no evidence that DHA supplements taken by a nursing mother will improve the long term outcome or IQ of her baby. Nursing mothers who get more DHA do have have higher levels of DHA in their milk, but it is not known whether these higher levels are beneficial or what the optimal levels might be. Vegetarians, particularly vegans, tend to have lower levels of DHA in breastmilk.
Dr. Thomas Hale recommends that normal breastfeeding women should not be supplemented with polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs). He indicates that while it is true that populations who ingest large quantities of fish and therefore polyunsaturated fatty acids do not have cardiovascular disease, he has indication that their rate of stroke is much higher, and so recommends that “supplements” not be used.
Nursing and pregnant women are certainly encouraged to eat natural sources of DHA and alpha linolenic acid. Good sources include:
Dietary Choices and DHA Supplementation from LLL’s LEAVEN, Vol. 34 No. 5, October-November 1998, p. 102-103.
DHA Levels in Breastmilk by Ricardo Uauy, a researcher in Chile
DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) from AskDrSears.com (Dr. Sears is associated with Martek, a manufacturer of DHA supplements)
General info (not lactation related)
Essential Fatty Acids in Vegetarian Nutrition by Brenda Davis, RD (great reading even if you are not a vegetarian)
Essential Fatty Acids by Christine Wood, MD, from KidsEatGreat.com
Herbs for Nursing Mothers
December 10, 2013
This is a topic that is really close to home for me right now. Over the past couple months I have been transitioning back into working part-time which means spending longer periods of time away from my 6 month old daughter. As I take on the challenge of pumping enough milk while I am away from her, I have been reacquainting myself with all the amazing herbs that can help to boost, enrich and support my breast milk production. We are going to start off with some herbal education. Below are herbal actions that you may be looking for when choosing the best herbs for yourself as a nursing mother.
Galactagogue Herbs: These are herbs that help to actually increase the body’s production of breast milk. They are helpful to take during your baby’s growth spurts, when you are away from your baby and have to pump milk, when you feel like your baby needs more milk than you are currently producing or any time you want to boost your production.
Nutritive Herbs: These herbs are high in vitamins and minerals. When taken by nursing mothers, they help to fortify the breast milk with extra nutrients and also replenish the mother’s stores of essential vitamins and minerals that she gives up to her baby during nursing.
Nervine Herbs: Let’s face it, the first couple months or even years of parenthood can be a bit stressful. Nervines help to support and restore the nervous system, reducing tension, anxiety and stress levels. Also, when you relax, your body relaxes, which leads to your milk letting down easily. They make a lovely addition to any nursing formula.
Carminative Herbs: These herbs aid digestion and help to relieve gas and bloating. I find these especially helpful to drink plenty of when your little one is dealing with any gas, bloating, constipation or unexplained fussiness (often referred to as colic). When a nursing mother takes these herbs, she can pass them on to her baby through her breast milk.
Demulcent Herbs: Demulcents soothe and moisten the whole body which can help to counteract the feeling of dryness that comes from nourishing a baby all day long. The best thing to do, of course, is to drink plenty of water. Try to drink at least 10 eight ounce glasses of water daily. Additionally you can drink demulcent teas to feel moisturized from the inside out.
Now it is time to meet the herbs. The following is a list of common herbs that have been traditionally used by nursing mothers and that I have personally had success with. There are a ton of excellent herbs so this list is by no means exhaustive…
Goat’s Rue: In my experience, this is hands down the most effective of all the galactagogues. When I first started working I had a big dip in my production on the days that I was away from my daughter, but I noticed a significant difference with taking this herb. In Europe, it is traditionally given to dairy cows & goats to increase their milk production. It can be taken as a tea or tincture. I have found that the fresh tincture is the most effective way to take this herb. Be aware that goat’s rue has a lowering effect on blood sugar and is often recommended for diabetics. Keep your blood sugar balanced by eating healthy proteins, fats & whole grains throughout the day.
Fennel, Fenugreek & Anise: These yummy spices are all galactagogues and carminatives. They help to boost breast milk production as well as soothe fussy babies by relieving gas, bloating & constipation. They are great for mothers of colicky babies. I find them to be delicious as a tea but you can also take them in tincture form for convenience.
Oatstraw: High in calcium & B vitamins, this herb is nutritive, demulcent, nervine AND it also increases milk supply. I think the best way to incorporate oats into your diet is to eat them! A bowl of oatmeal daily is a traditional recommendation for nursing moms. It can provide you with the nourishment, energy and stamina you need to get through your busy day. It is also very nourishing as a tea. I don’t recommend it in tincture form because you don’t get the nutritive benefits. Oats contain a protein that closely resembles gluten. In addition, they are also commonly cross contaminated with wheat, therefore if you are allergic to gluten, I would not recommend oats.
Nettle Leaf: High in minerals including calcium & potassium, Nettles help to enrich your breast milk and to replenish your body’s essential stores of nutrients. It is a tonic, giving you energy and support throughout the day. It is also often referred to as a galactagogue, but I personally feel that it’s main action is through nourishment. I find that when I drink it I feel nourished and have more energy, but I don’t necessarily have an increase in supply. Nettles are best to drink as a tea to gain the full nutritive benefits. Nettles can be a little drying due to it’s diuretic action so when i drink Nettles, I like to mix it with demulcent herbs like Marshmallow or Linden.
Hops: Hops is specific for helping your milk to “let down”. If you ever have the experience of your baby sucking and sucking but your milk just won’t let down, it can be frustrating for both of you. Hops is great for this. It is important to know that hops is also quite sedative, so you may not want to take it during the day. But being a sedative, it is great to take at nighttime, not only to help with your milk, but also to help you get a good nights rest. I usually keep a tincture of hops by my bed. When I wake to nurse my baby at night, sometimes it is hard for me to fall back asleep right away. Taking a dose of my hops tincture usually does the trick. You can also drink hops as a tea, but it is quite bitter, so you may want to mix it with some more delicious herbs. You can also enjoy a nice hoppy beer in the evening to help you relax and support your breast milk. You probably want to limit it to one beer so you don’t pass on the alcohol to your baby.
Raspberry: Raspberry is often recommended to pregnant mothers to strengthen the uterus in preparation for childbirth. I like to continue to drink it postpartum as well. It is incredibly nutritive so it fortifies your breast milk and replenishes your body’s stores of vitamins & minerals. It also helps to tonify & tighten the uterus, bringing it back to it’s pre-pregnancy shape. I think it is best to drink as a tea to gain the full nutritive benefits.
Marshmallow Root: The best and most delicious demulcent, Marshmallow moistens the whole body helping to avoid the drying affects of nursing. I mix a small part of it into every nursing tea that I make. It is best as a tea and has a pleasant sweet flavor. I do not recommend it as a tincture.
Chamomile: Chamomile is a wonderfully relaxing herb helping to relieve feelings of stress, tension & nervousness. It is a carminative, so it is great for babies who have gas, bloating or unexplained fussiness. I love to drink it in the evening to help me relax and transition to bedtime. It is a delicious tea, but can also be taken as a tincture for convenience.
Linden: I love Linden! The trees grow all around Boulder and are so amazingly fragrant. It is one of my favorite nervines for reducing feelings of stress & tension. It is also demulcent and delicious so it makes a great addition to nursing teas.
Lemon balm: Lemon balm is in the mint family, but it is more mild than peppermint and has a pleasant lemony flavor. It is another personal favorite of mine. It is a nervine, carminative and also promotes a good night’s sleep. It can be taken as a tea or tincture.
Sage: Sage is actually an ANTI-galactagogue, meaning it causes the breast milk to dry up. It is useful when you are weaning your baby and want to avoid getting engorged. It can be taken as a tea or tincture. It is pretty strong as a tea so you can mix it with some peppermint to taste.
My Favorite Nursing Tea Recipe
1 part Raspberry
1 part Nettle
1/2 part Linden
1/2 part Fenugreek
1/2 part Lemon Balm
1/4 part Fennel
1/4 part Marshmallow
Directions: Mix all ingredients together. Use 1 Tbsp of loose herb per cup of water. Steep 30 minutes – 4 hours. Strain and enjoy!
How do I prepare these herbs? Herbs can be taken as either an infusion or a tincture. An infusion is the same as a tea, but the herbs are usually steeped loose and for a longer period of time. To prepare an infusion, steep 1 Tbsp of loose herb per cup of hot water and infuse for 30 minutes – 4 hours. The longer you infuse your tea, the more medicinal it will become. For nutritive herbs you want to make sure to get at least a 2 hour steep to get the maximum benefit of the vitamins and minerals. I like to prepare 1 quart of nursing tea at a time (4 Tbsp of herb/ 4 cups water) and drink that daily.
A tincture is an alcohol extract of a plant. It is concentrated, so you only have to take about 30-40 drops (or one dropperful) per dose, which makes it quick and convenient. Some moms worry about having any alcohol while nursing, but I like to remind people that a dose of a tincture has about as much alcohol in it as a ripe banana. Use your intuition and decide what feels right for you and your baby.
Before taking any herb while you are nursing, it is important to make sure that it is safe for you and your baby. An excellent resource is “The Nursing Mother’s Herbal” by Sheila Humphrey. She has created a handy index where you can look up an herb and it will give you a safety rating and any effects that it may have on your milk or your baby.
Where can I buy these herbs? If you have a local apothecary, they will probably have most of these herbs on the shelf. You can also purchase them online at Mountain Rose Herbs. They are an excellent resource for quality, organic herbs. The fresh Goat’s Rue tincture that I take is from Wish Garden Herbs. They are a local tincture company in Boulder, CO. If you have trouble locating the tincture locally, you can order it through them.
Also Yogi Brand Teas, Alvita, Traditional Medicinals Can be purchased at Giant Supermarkets
Websites for Baby Products
(Outstanding Website for Health Conscious Mothers and Babies)
Website for Cheaper Supplements
(Omega-3 Oils, Red Raspberry Tea, Breastfeeding Tea and more)
(To help heal sore nipples)
Earth Mama Angel Baby Brand
Natural Nipple Butter