You might have gathered all the advice you need for successful breastfeeding. But some things you will soon discover about your mummy duty may come as a surprise.
WORDS RACHEL KWEK
Breastfeeding is a huge part of your role as a new mother and may make you feel anxious. While learning the techniques of nursing your baby adequately certainly reduces this anxiety, learning more about how breastfeeding affects you and your baby will better prepare you to make the best of this unique journey.
1. Breastfed Babies Tend to Smell and Look Better
Don’t you just love the scent of your baby? You have a part to play in it! Wong Boh Boi, senior lactation consultant at Thomson Medical Centre, shares from her years of experience that breastfed babies tend to smell nicer than babies who are not. “Even their poop smells better than that of those who are not breastfed,” she adds. They also tend to have nicer skin that is not patchy. Smelling better helps build self-esteem as these babies tend to elicit better responses from their caregivers. A study published in Frontiers in Psychology reports that inhaling the scent of a newborn increases levels of dopamine. Dopamine is a key chemical involved in reward learning and it motivates us to engage in behaviours because of the pleasure associated with them. Besides making you want to hold your baby more, caregivers are also less likely to express disgust at the smell of breastfed babies’ poop. When breastfed babies observe such positive reactions, they form positive images of themselves.
2. Your Baby May Not be Getting Enough to Drink
Babies sometimes fall asleep when they suckle. Wong also points out that poor attachment is a major problem. She says, “The baby expends more energy to suck milk and may end up using the mother’s nipple as a pacifier.” A shallow latch will lead to failure to empty the breast adequately which can result in cracked or sore nipples. This makes you more vulnerable to infections like thrush which can be passed to your baby’s mouth. Poor drainage of milk from the breasts also slows down milk production. As milk produced is not used up, the breasts are not stimulated to produce more.
Furthermore, when mothers are busy or multi-task, they may miss feedings. To ensure your baby drinks enough, Wong suggests keeping them awake during feedings and settling into a breastfeeding routine.
3. Breastfeeding Burns 500 to 600 Calories a Day
Wong says nursing your baby burns 500 to 600 calories a day because of the intense metabolism of energy. She adds that breastfeeding mothers who eat healthily lose 4.4 pounds more than mothers who don’t in three months. Oxytocin released during breastfeeding helps to shrink the uterus and makes losing the post-pregnancy paunch easier too. This means breastfeeding helps you fit into your pre-pregnancy clothes faster than you think without exercise!
4. Breastfeeding Offers Natural Birth Control
Breastfeeding offers a temporary measure to prevent pregnancy known as the lactational amenorrhoea contraception method. Breastfeeding inhibits oestrogen production. Because high levels of oestrogen are required for ovulation (the release of eggs into the fallopian tubes), regular breastfeeding prevents ovulation and thus conception.
Mothers who breastfeed exclusively have significantly higher oxytocin and prolactin levels than those who don’t. Stimulation of the breast during breastfeeding triggers the release of prolactin. Prolactin suppresses the production of hormones that support ovulation. Wong says four to six months of total breastfeeding is needed to establish this state of suppression, adding that the longer you breastfeed, the better established ovulation suppression. If you do not breastfeed exclusively or feed your baby expressed milk, this method will not be very effective in preventing pregnancy.
5. Breastfeeding and Feeding Breast Milk are not the Same
Does it matter whether a baby drinks breast milk from the breast or from a bottle? While the nutrients that are available to your baby are essentially the same, babies who drink expressed breast milk gain more weight, Wong says. She attributes this to the tendency for mothers to encourage their babies to finish all the milk in the bottle in order not to waste it. There is no concern over wastage when your baby feeds from the breast as he self-regulates the quantity he needs and would stop drinking when he is full. Furthermore, expressing breast milk increases the chances of it getting contaminated. Why spend more money and effort to serve your baby milk that is less than best?
6. Breast Milk gives your Baby a Stronger Gut
Some bacteria in your baby’s gut are essential for digestion and keep harmful microorganisms at bay. Large quantities of complex sugars present in a mother’s milk enhance the growth of beneficial bacteria in an infant’s intestines. Also, a milk antibody called SIgA promotes a healthier intestinal tract in babies. As a result, breastfed babies are less likely to develop irritable bowel syndrome in later life. As babies cannot produce this antibody, his only source of it is his mother’s milk. Wong says enzymes in breast milk protects a baby’s gut. Damage to the gut lining can cause lactose intolerance because lactase, an enzyme needed to digest lactose, is produced in the intestine. Nurturing a healthy gut lays the foundation for a strong immune system and thus lowers the incidence of illness and disease. Wong advocates breast milk for premature babies in particular. She cautions, “A premature baby’s gut is not fully developed so feeding him with the wrong formula can damage his gut and lead to necrotising enterocolitis.”
7. The Let-down Reflex can feel Strange
New mums commonly experience it as a tingling sensation. On the other hand, some may feel pain or nothing at all. Having your baby suckle and other forms of stimulation to the breasts triggers the release of oxytocin, which controls the reflex. As oxytocin helps shrink the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size, breastfeeding can give you cramps. Leakage is possible as milk ejection can be triggered by thoughts of your baby or even hearing another baby cry. Times like these can be inhibiting, not to mention embarrassing. Thus, be prepared with breast pads to avoid the inconveniences of leaking breasts.
8. Breastmilk is a Disease-fighting Superfood
Wong says breastfed babies are hardly obese even later in life. Research shows that breastfed babies have healthier cardiovascular and respiratory systems too. This reduces their risk of SIDS and hypertension. Wong says long chain fatty acids in breast milk prevents type 2 diabetes. According to her, feeding on breast milk lowers a baby’s risk of lymphoma, myeloid leukaemia and asthma. Babies who are born with respiratory problems are less likely to be hospitalised if they are breastfed.