Your body knows exactly what your baby needs and puts together the best possible cocktail in the form of breast milk, which contains protein, healthy fat, sugar, vitamins, and minerals plus some protective immune fighters.
What might be most amazing is that the composition of your breast milk actually changes as your baby grows, adapting to their changing needs. So if your baby needs more of the fat (DHA) that’s essential for brain development, more DHA appears in your breast milk. This is an important reason to continue your prenatal multivitamin during parenting and breastfeeding.
From mid-pregnancy on, your body begins to make colostrum, a yellow, creamy “premilk” that’s full of proteins, vitamins, minerals, and infection-fighting antibodies. Colostrum is enough to nourish your newborn for the first few days after birth.
When your milk comes in, your breasts may initially produce far more than your baby needs or can handle. As your hormones adjust and your baby establishes an eating pattern, you’ll produce pretty much exactly the amount of milk your child needs.
There are lots of great reasons breastfeeding is best for you and your baby, but let’s take our top 7:
1. More bonding: Skin-to-skin contact from birth on during breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that facilitates bonding.
2. Better brains: Breastmilk builds better brains. Breastfeeding is linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in most such studies.
3. Less diarrhea: Breastmilk promotes higher quality bacteria in baby’s gut and poop, reducing diarrhea and baby’s chances of becoming obese or ever having type 2 diabetes.
4. Fewer infections: Breast milk gives baby antibodies that he cannot make in any other way. These antibodies fight off viruses and bacteria that cause illness long before your baby can be fully immunized and make those antibodies for himself.
5. Reduced SIDS risk: Breastfed babies have a reduced risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
6. Lower risk of cancer and osteoporosis: Breastfeeding lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer by about 20% each. Some studies are also showing it reduces your risk of bone thinning (osteopenia and osteoporosis) and even hip fracture later in life.
7. Faster weight loss: If the first 6 reasons aren’t enough to convince you to breastfeed your baby, consider that you burn an extra 500 calories a day when nursing. This could cause at least as much as a 1 pound loss a week while nursing.
The most important thing to remember about breastfeeding is that not only are you passing along all the nutrients your child needs but also some others that they may not need or want courtesy of the foods and drinks that you’re consuming. So, it’s essential to get your own nutritional house in order.
For optimum nutrition, keep taking your prenatal vitamin and make sure to get enough of the following nutrients—these are especially beneficial for your baby’s health as they increase the quality of your breast milk:
Protein: 2 or 3 servings a day of beans, organically fed poultry (skinless), seafood (non-bottom-feeders or small fish; think wild—including canned—salmon, trout, mahi mahi), eggs, low-fat dairy, or soy. Fish protein is super healthy; eat up to 12 ounces a week to avoid potential over-consumption of mercury and other trace elements. Salmon and trout are great sources of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA as well.
Calcium: 1,300 mg a day from supplements and low-fat dairy products, calcium-fortified orange juice, soy milk, tofu, broccoli, spinach, sardines, beans, sesame seeds, or oranges. It’s useless to consume more than 600 mg in any 2-hour period as that’s the maximum your body can absorb at a time, either from food or from a supplement. If you choose pills, we recommend that you take no more than 600 mg a day from supplements, and do chose a supplement containing calcium citrate, vitamin D3, and magnesium. The magnesium (one-third the dose of the calcium) is needed to prevent constipation or bloating from the calcium. Skip calcium supplements if you have kidney problems.
Iron: 20 mg a day from poultry, seafood, dried beans and fruit, egg yolks. Your multivitamin often includes more than that, and that’s okay while you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or menstruating.
DHA: 600 mg a day. An algae source, available in most drugstores, is ideal, since it avoids any toxin concerns and is very palatable in pill form.
Vitamin C: 800 mg a day from citrus fruits, red peppers, broccoli.
Aim to have a healthy, varied diet and drink plenty of fluids. Avoid spicy or gas-inducing foods, as well as caffeinated beverages and alcohol.
While you can’t see what’s in your breast milk or typically measure how much is coming out while baby is nursing, you can get a pretty good idea whether it’s doing the job. Some women produce enough milk for quintuplets, while others question if they’re producing enough.
All babies lose weight in the first week of life and then rebound to their birth weight by 2 weeks. Baby’s weight should be double their birth weight by 6 months, and triple their birth weight by 12 months. If your baby is gaining weight appropriately and soiling diapers often, then you’re most likely giving him enough of the foods they need. If they’re not gaining weight, talk with their healthcare provider about possible feeding problems.
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