Breastmilk is universally recognized as the most complete food for proper psycho-motor development in children. Breastfeeding provides the baby with all the nutrients it needs in the early stages of its life. It promotes growth through the bioactive and immunological substances that milk is rich in: these protect the baby from bacterial infections by creating the right conditions for intestinal development. These are properties that belong exclusively to breast milk and that are transferred only with breastfeeding.
According to the world organizations (Unicef, World Health Organization), children should be compulsorily breastfed until the 26th week and – optionally, depending on the needs of the mother and child – until the age of two and a half years.
There are various types of breastfeeding listed in the guidelines adopted by our Ministry of Health:
- exclusive breastfeeding with breast milk
- breastfeeding with the addition of non-nutrient liquids
- breastfeeding with the addition of formulated milk.
The WHO recommends feeding babies with breast milk until the baby begins to show an interest in other foods. However, even during weaning, it is important to complement the mother’s milk with the adult feeding that is given to the baby. Breastfeeding is in fact a right of children and should be done as much as possible to enable them to grow healthy, since mother’s milk is the most complete food that exists.
Benefits of breast milk
We have already repeated several times that mother’s milk is the most complete and nutrient-rich food for the newborn in the first period of its life. Remembering it is never enough. Why? Simple: the milk produced by a woman after childbirth is the richest in goods for the baby than any other existing food. What are these qualities of natural super-food? Let’s find out:
- provides the child with all the elements necessary for healthy growth in the first half of the year (rich in enzymes and antibodies);
- avoids serious hypersensitivity to toxic-harmful and foreign substances;
- has a particularly positive eﬀetto on the development of the infant’s immune system (it contains, in fact, over 700 bacteria diﬀerenti that stimulate the creation of a protective barrier);
- promotes the natural relationship between mother and child;
- reduces the possibility of gastroenteritis and numerous infections, development of allergies and respiratory infections, improves vision and psychomotor development and obesity in adulthood;
Moreover, according to Unicef, breast milk is immediately assimilable (it does not need to be mixed with other substances), it is always available for the baby at the ideal temperature and it does not need any external instrument!
The benefits of breastfeeding are not limited to the baby: breast milk, in fact, is also good for the mother! It is easier to regain strength after childbirth and allows the development of a healthy relationship between mother and child. According to recent studies, breastfeeding would also reduce the risk of the appearance of cancer cells.
For the health of the child and the mother it is essential, for all the reasons listed above, that breastfeeding is encouraged. It is important, from the first few minutes of a baby’s life, that a strong empathy between mother and child is developed immediately to encourage attachment to the breast. The mother’s body is the ideal cradle for the newborn where it finds an adequate temperature and where it can calm down, without stress and breathing regularly. Contact with the mother’s breast should take place within an hour of birth with the mother and father who, relaxed, enjoy this intense moment in the life of their baby.
How to breastfeed
For a correct feeding of the baby that is fed through breastfeeding is recommended a pre-birth course for the future mother. It is not compulsory, but it is always a good thing to have advice and a doctor staﬀ to ask for information and that can satisfy any doubt, right mom?
The first few minutes after the birth of the baby are crucial to establishing a healthy mother-child relationship, the first few hours for proper attachment and the days immediately following the happy event are crucial to learning how to breastfeed.
The rules to follow for breastfeeding are few and very simple. The first is no anxiety, no stress: breastfeeding is an act of natural love between a mother and a child, no pressure must ruin this moment. You need to be comfortable and in a natural position, if your dad is with you: even better! Check that the baby is in the correct position and that it is not crushed, bothered or compressed. Is it in its place and is it well attached to the breast? All right! Ready, go, eat!
The useful recommendations for a mother who is breastfeeding are few, but fundamental for her health, that of the child and to give him a complete and correct diet:
Quantity, rhythms and times of feeding
The most correct breastfeeding is one that follows the natural rhythms of the baby. The right amount of milk can be controlled by the mother through discharges: if the baby wets at least 6 nappies a day and has two or three discharges a day it means that he is eating well and enough. The growth, always controlled by the paediatrician, should be about 500 grams per month.
The rhythm of feeding should follow, as already pointed out, the needs of the child: make him eat when he is hungry and not stress him unnecessarily forcing him if he does not have much of an appetite. Don’t rely on the growth of other children: each child is different and grows up according to its own rules. Your little one, in fact, knows very well how to make you understand when he is hungry, don’t worry: you will notice.
Recommended diet for mothers who are breastfeeding
Does breastfeeding mean energy transfer? Basically… yes! Feeding during breastfeeding must be richer than during pregnancy because, if before the caloric intake was 200 kilocalories more per day, today it must be increased by at least 500-600 to give the baby the right nutrients.
A breastfeeding mother should consume a minimum of 1800 calories with a balanced diet. The variety of foods is fundamental: it is necessary to limit the consumption of oils and fats, increasing the consumption of fruit and vegetables.
The fundamental thing, mother, is that you maintain the right balance between what you like and what provides the right energy for your child’s growth. In the diet for the mother who is breastfeeding must never be missing:
- proteins, which should be taken at least 3 times a week (you can find them in meat, fish and cheese)
- sugars, those of bread, pasta and rice: beware, we said sugars not sweet! Always prefer simple sugars to those more complex to digest, such as cakes, pastries and other good but fat things!
- legumes, which give the right amount of fiber and carbohydrates (eat them by making moderate use because they could alter the flavor of milk)
- fats, especially monounsaturated fats that the baby’s body needs. Healthy and nutritious fats are mainly contained in olive oil.
- whatever sauce you can eat, mom, do it. Vegetables and their properties are great for you and your baby because, in addition to making your body quickly recover the intestinal regularity that had been lost during childbirth, it quickly replenishes the lost mineral salts. Eat all the vegetables you want, as long as they’re not fried!
- fruit, source of life and… energy! Fruit is a food to be preferred and eaten at any time of the year, especially to breastfeed well! Fruit gives you slowly absorbed sugars and potassium, which helps you to support yourself during breastfeeding.
There are also specific nutrients that a woman should take during breastfeeding. Here’s a quick vademecum to take with you!
- protein: at least 71 grams per day for the development of the child’s muscles and tissues
- folic acid: 500 micrograms per day are important for tissue structure (broccoli, dark green vegetables and oranges)
- calcium: about 1 g per day is needed to strengthen the mother’s bones and for the bone development of the baby
- zinc: the right amount is 2 milligrams per day for the proper functioning of the immune system (meat, some cereals and nuts)
- iron: the necessary amount to take is 10 milligrams per day needed for blood circulation
- vitamin D: 10 milligrams per day is necessary for proper absorption of calcium. Exposed to the sun properly for at least 30 minutes a day is a great way to maintain a constant level of vitamin D while breast-feeding.
Dietary Fiber: Breast-feeding mothers should try to take 30 grams every other day through whole grains, fruits and vegetables.
Having a proper diet while breastfeeding is not just about eating well: drinking is very important. When your baby takes your milk, it also takes the amount of water it needs to hydrate. So you, mum, lose fluids: it is important that you drink at least two litres of water a day. In doing so, you will also make your milk more liquid, which will also cost the baby less effort to drink. Obviously, as well as during pregnancy, avoid the consumption of alcohol because it could induce drowsiness and lethargy in the newborn.
Obviously many mothers with pregnancy gain weight: do not despair because it is normal for a woman to take a few pounds while waiting for her baby. Do not make drastic decisions immediately, such as a strict diet or eliminating food without being followed by a nutritionist. A balanced diet during breastfeeding and proper hydration should in most cases be enough to lose weight and give you and your baby the right nutritional supply. If you have trouble slimming and notice that you just can’t do it on your own, contact a specialist who will help you with a balanced diet.
There are also some foods (and habits) to avoid during breastfeeding. A few simple tips will help you prepare your body to provide your baby with healthy, nutritious milk. With the right measures, you will also have an optimal level of energy to deal with the first few months of life with your daughter or child. You’ll need it!
Coffee: Nursing coffee should be avoided, because some of the caffeine you ingest ends up in your breast milk. Small children cannot dispose of caffeine as an adult and it can lead to irritability and difficulty falling asleep.
Fish: If it is true that salmon is an excellent food during breastfeeding, it is also true that it is not recommended to eat too much fish during breastfeeding. The recommended weekly portion is about 350 grams, preferring fish that are low in mercury.
Citrus fruit: Some of the substances present in citrus fruit may irritate the gastrointestinal tract of the baby. Avoid citrus fruits and take vitamin C from other foods that are rich in it.
One last tip: in your diet during breastfeeding, avoid foods to which your family members are allergic. Some allergies can be hereditary!
Problems with breastfeeding: breast blockage, fissures, mastitis
There are very few contraindications for breastfeeding. Usually these are mostly related to disorders or pathologies of the mother, due to medications taken during pregnancy or postpartum or for pathologies of the unborn child. But don’t worry, Mummy! As we told you, they are very rare. If you have any questions, always contact (and as soon as possible, even if you have the slightest doubt) your general practitioner and the specialist who follows you: they will know how to reassure you instantly. Momentary situations for the mother, such as the flu or other common infections, do not require the suspension of breastfeeding because they do not affect the health of the baby. All you have to do is make sure that this state is not prolonged too long, that in short, it remains transitory. Informing your doctor and asking for his advice is always the best solution.
To avoid really not to damage the production of milk and therefore the growth of the child are some habits as:
- smoking (reduces milk production and increases the risk of disease for the baby, including death in the cradle)
- use alcoholic beverages (passing directly into breast milk can cause drowsiness and disturbances in the baby’s diet)
Why risk if these are habits that should be avoided in any case? Come on, Mom: you’ve certainly stopped already, haven’t you? All mothers, in short, if properly followed by family members (to relieve stress and avoid a possible postpartum depression) and prepared by medical staff during the days immediately before and after childbirth, can breastfeed without problems. Cases in which it is really necessary to decide to stop breastfeeding are rare and can be classified as:
- Ragadi: the small (and painful) cuts that are created around the areola or on the nipple make it difficult to feed but it is easy to prevent them by correcting the position of the baby, avoiding using products that can irritate the area through exposure to the air of the breast involved (in summer the sun is a real cure-all) and using anti-ragadians cups that isolate the area.
- Mastitis: this infection concerns the irritation of the galactophorous ducts (it is favoured both by the rhagades and by the mammary traffic jam). Feared a bit like her mother-in-law, this complication is favored by the presence of rhagades and mammary congestion but can be safely kept under control through antibiotics and, once solved the fever and general malaise, you can continue to breastfeed. All this is always under medical supervision.
- Breast engorgement: it may happen, especially in the first few weeks, that the flow of milk is blocked by an irritation of the breast. This can swell, redness and hurt. Some methods of relieving the painful part are totally natural: compressing with very hot water, using a breastpump or, simply, correcting the position of the baby who, by pulling the milk for feeding, will make sure to relieve the congestion. A truly natural method is that of “cabbage”: using the cabbage leaves as a natural calming agent to deflate the breast (with packs of about 20 minutes) is a grandmother’s trick that always works!
- Inverted nipple: this problem can make breastfeeding impossible in the most serious cases, otherwise solvable with non-surgical or mini invasive techniques. The anomaly is characterized by the absence of prominence of the nipple: it is like this was pushed into the breast. The abnormality is caused by the tubes that bring the milk to the nipple too short. Don’t despair, though, if you have this problem! The types of introflections are different from each other and a remedy, if followed correctly and acting in time, a solution is always found.
What if there’s no milk? Stopping breastfeeding: mothers’ most common motives
Breastfeeding, for every mother, is a very intimate moment with her baby. It serves to strengthen the relationship between the two and to give the baby all the nutrients it needs. The longer this period is, the greater the benefits for the baby and the mother. However, there are reasons, beyond those listed above, that lead a mother to not be able to breastfeed or to decide to stop doing so. It is a difficult decision, sometimes independent of one’s own will and frightening. The most common reasons are:
- you have little milk (the mother feels guilty and the child is not satisfied enough);
- you have to go back to work;
- medical reasons;
- the child does not want to (the feeding is no longer so necessary for his body, the child knows very well what he needs).