In recent decades, there has been a remarkable shift in the way women in modern society are seeking to satisfy the nutritional needs of their newborn. Although nature has provided us with a valuable set of mammary glands, many mothers are abandoning the breast and turning to the bottle. Why is it that a woman would feel the need to nourish their babies with formulas and artificial nutrition?
The answer lies between the fast paced, antifeminist culture and machismo work force, where women are being discouraged from nursing in public, and not given time at work to pump at all, let alone pump enough to keep a steady milk supply for their baby.
This desire to return to a “normal” lifestyle following childbirth serves as the basis for the common complaints of “not making enough milk,” to “the baby wouldn’t latch on” and “being to tired,” that promotes bottle feeding and formula supplementation as a readily convenient alternative.
Sure, there are legit reasons to avoid breastfeeding, such as in the presence of diseases like HIV or hepatitis, maternal drug use, or taking medically necessary medications that could harm the baby. Occasionally, premature or sick newborns are not strong enough to breastfeed, and some endocrine conditions and anatomical defects (extensive breast surgery) can lead to an insufficient milk supply.
More often than not however, women are uninformed about the facts, and influenced by misconceptions and negative pressure from others. So to set the record straight, here are the facts…Breastfeeding is GOOD FOR YOUR BABY!!!
Ok so maybe feeding by the breast is a primitive mammal function. Are human beings that much above the animal kingdom that they cannot rely on natural methods to feed their young? This may come as a surprise to some, but guess what? Mother Nature knew what she was doing; babies were born to breastfeed! Starting with conception and the development of the placenta, the female body was perfectly designed to nourish her offspring, providing a direct lifeline to the fetus, supplying it with just the right amount of nutrients, oxygen, and energy to grow. For the healthy woman, nothing more is needed! Although birth signifies the independence of the baby as its own being, separate from its mother, the need to love and care for the baby doesn’t stop there, and neither does our ability to provide perfect nourishment.
Biologically speaking, during pregnancy, abundant amounts of progesterone are secreted from the placenta (hence why progesterone is called the “hormone of pregnancy”). This inhibits the secretion of prolactin (the milk hormone) from the pituitary gland, and prevents the milk supply from coming in while the placenta is still the primary means of nourishment. After birth, with subsequent delivery of the placenta, progesterone levels drop, and allowing prolactin to dominate and begin milk production. Throughout pregnancy, estrogen and progesterone influences cause proliferation and maturation of the mammary glands and ducts in preparation for birth. This aids in the development of colostrum, which is the thick, yellowish substance that may be seen prior to delivery and arrival of the milk. Although colostrum is commonly misunderstood to be unsanitary, it is actually superior nutrition, in that it is very rich in calories, protein, and protective antibodies to help establish beneficial intestinal flora to produce vitamin K and protect against harmful extrauterine pathogens. It also creates a mild laxative effect to help pass the first stool and clear the gut of the sticky fetal meconium. Bringing the baby to the breast immediately after birth (or as soon as possible) allows not only for maximum colostrum intake, but it facilitates mother-infant bonding, and nipple stimulation to secrete oxytocin. Oxytocin (synthetically supplied as Pitocin to induce or augment labor) is a natural chemical produced by our body that causes the uterus to contract. Oxytocin serves as a natural protective factor against post partum hemorrhage because it causes the uterus to contract and close off any bleeding uterine arteries. This is often why many women experience abdominal cramping when first starting to breastfeed. Additionally, it produces a positive reflex reaction to promote more milk production. Like most hormones that create physical and emotional effects, release of oxytocin presents a feeling of maternal yearning for her newborn to enhance the bonding period. Unsurprisingly, interference during the postpartum period (such as repairs and recovery after a C section) presents a challenge to initiating these crucial events in the short time just after delivery.
It is commonly believed that the only way to know if the baby is getting any milk is when breasts become engorged and the milk starts leaking out. This leads to many women wanting to use formula and a breast pump to help the milk come in. This is where patient education is crucial. Not only is the baby getting sufficient nutrition from colostrum, but allowing the baby to latch on and suckle provides significantly better nipple stimulation than just the pump alone. Instead of sticking a little rubber pacifier in the baby’s mouth to keep the kid quiet, stick em on the teat! This becomes a big factor later on, when pumping alone often doesn’t produce enough milk. This is due to the mechanism of how milk is expressed. When the baby is properly latched on to the breast, it is able to use the entire mouth and jaw to compress the glands around the nipple to squeeze out more milk than just nipple suction alone (such as with the breast pump, or when a baby is improperly latched on). This method also allows for less trauma to the nipple and helps to reduce nipple soreness.
Now here’s the big kicker….how many formula feeding parents have done their research on the origin of most of the nutritional ingredients in baby formula? I guess no one ever really thought to ask where many of the enzymes and fatty acids come from…go figure, many formula companies process and use the abdominal fat of swine to supplement their products. Sure, its got plenty of calories, digestive enzymes, vitamins, hell, they even have bacon flavored baby formula!!
So with questionable components of baby formula, why settle for less than what God gave you? Babies are able to get excellent portions of calories, fluids, antibodies, fats, enzymes, and more just from the breast. Most recommendations are supportive of exclusive use of breast milk to feed during the first 6 to 12 months of life. Not only is it more economic than expensive formulas, but breast milk actually changes its composition to meet the developmental needs and nutrient requirements of the growing newborn. If all else fails in changing perceptions about the benefits of breast feeding, pull the weight loss card….breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day, or more. A GREAT strategy to lose pregnancy weight! In many cultures, breastfeeding is the primary method of birth control and family planning. In Orthodox Jewish women, prolonged breast-feeding is an unofficial yet effective way to space pregnancies. The consistent secretion of hormones needed for steady milk production introduces one of the most natural and religiously acceptable methods of birth control for any religion.
Unless there are prior contraindications, healthcare providers around the world are in agreement…”breast is best.”
For more information and local support, check out these great websites…
La Leche League: http://www.llli.org/
**Just got off 48 hr shift on L&D, will cite references later…=)