Breastfeeding is considered by many to be the most natural and healthy way for a mother to feed their newborn. Aside from all the health benefits breastfeeding offers, it also plays an important part in deepening the bond between mother and baby.
This week is National Breastfeeding Week here in Ireland, taking place from the 1st to the 7th of October 2021. To celebrate this, here at O’Flynn Medical we will be taking a closer look at the benefits of breastfeeding as well as how using a breast pump, when possible, can make it easier for new mothers to nurse their babies.
Boost Your Baby’s Immune System from Day One
The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding as the healthiest and most natural way of feeding your baby. The WHO and the HSE also both recommend that mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months and continue as they introduce weaning foods. Breast milk is rich in antibodies that help to kick-start the baby’s immune system soon after birth. Antibody levels are at their highest in colostrum, which is the first milk that a mother produces, but they remain present in the mother’s milk for as long as she nurses. These antibodies help to protect the baby against a wide range of viruses and infections such as flu, gastrointestinal infections, and any other disease which the mother may have had in the past.
In addition to this, colostrum also helps to balance a new-born baby’s immune system. This is important because it helps the immune system to recognise viruses and bacteria and respond appropriately. Breast milk contains the proteins lactoferrin and interleukin-6, -8 and -10 which play a big role in regulating the inflammatory response in new-born babies.
Breast Milk Contains Essential Nutrients
While infant formula has come a long way in recent times, breastmilk contains essential nutrients that formula cannot replicate as of yet. One of the most important benefits of breastfeeding is that your baby has access to all the nutrients needed to build a healthy immune system from an early age. Breast milk also helps to establish and promote a healthy gastrointestinal system and can even reduce the tendency to develop food allergies or intolerances later in life.
Breastmilk is considered probiotic and helps to promote the normal functions of the healthy bacteria that reside in the gastrointestinal system. The health benefits of breastfeeding are life-long and can improve the future health and quality of life of your baby. Another one of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it reduces the likelihood of obesity, as breastmilk contains hormones that help babies to regulate their appetite and prevents them from consuming too much milk.
“Breastmilk is obviously hugely important for a baby’s development, providing the ideal amount of energy and nutrients,” notes Jennifer Wilkinson, Neonatal Dietician at Cork University Maternity Hospital. “Perhaps most importantly it’s packed full of essential enzymes, hormones, and antibodies that can fight infections, such as respiratory, UTIs, and gastroenteritis. Breast milk is a dynamic fluid that changes as the baby grows and as its needs change, your breastmilk actually changes too and facilitates these needs. In comparison, formulas don’t contain these critical antibodies and one must remember that powdered infant formula is not a sterile product, it can contain harmful bacteria that may potentially cause serious illness in infants when not prepared correctly.”
How Breastfeeding Benefits You and Your Baby
The benefits of breastfeeding are not limited to the baby, breastfeeding is also great for mums! According to the HSE, breastfeeding mothers’ benefit from a significantly reduced risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and even diabetes. The skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby during breastfeeding also strengthens the bond between mother and child and it triggers the release of oxytocin in both the mother and infant. Breastfed babies are less likely to experience upset tummies, which is great for the baby but also makes the parent’s life a lot easier, especially when it comes to dealing with nappies!
Breastfeeding can also be more convenient than bottle feeding since no preparation is required and there is no need to sterilise equipment after use. Some of the other benefits of breastfeeding might only come into play a bit later in life, such as the chance of a higher IQ, but there is no argument that breastfeeding has real and immediate benefits for both mother and child.
How Breastfeeding Benefits the Mother
Aside from the fact that breastfeeding can increase the bond between mother and baby, it also has other important health benefits for mothers too. Research indicates that the benefits of breastfeeding include a quicker and easier recovery after birth. The hormone oxytocin, which is released during breastfeeding, helps the uterus to return to its normal size quicker after birth and can help to alleviate postpartum bleeding. Breastfeeding also burns a lot of calories daily, which goes a long way towards regaining your pre-pregnancy weight quicker.
When breastfeeding, there is no need to lug around a bag filled with bottles and formula which is quite convenient, especially when out and about on a busy day. These are just a few of the health- and practical benefits that can be enjoyed when opting for breastfeeding over using formula.
Problems That You Might Face When Breastfeeding
Unfortunately, Ireland has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, with only two out of three women initiating it before leaving the maternity hospital according to the Irish Maternity Indicator System 2019 national report. Some women can experience problems when breastfeeding, which may discourage them from continuing. However, most of these problems can be overcome with proper advice and assistance from a qualified professional such as a midwife. Remember that breastfeeding is a skill that both you and your baby need to learn, while it may seem difficult at first, the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the potential problems in most cases.
Some women may experience problems such as sore or cracked nipples in the early days of breastfeeding. This is often due to an improperly positioned baby and can be remedied by simply changing the baby’s positioning. Other problems can include overproduction of milk that can lead to sore breasts and, in some cases, blocked milk ducts. In these cases, it might be useful to consider expressing milk frequently by using a breast pump. Expressing milk can alleviate your symptoms but it can also be convenient because it allows your baby to feed even when you aren’t around.
Using a Breast Pump to Express Milk
No matter what the reason for needing to use them, breast pumps offer a simple, painless, and effective way to express your milk. Breast pumps are completely safe to use and do not cause any harm to you or your baby. Many women would prefer to breastfeed their babies but cannot do so due to not being close to their children during every feeding. Breast pumps are the ideal remedy for this because they can be used to express milk for later use and gives a partner or family member the chance to take over.
Expressed milk can be stored safely in the refrigerator until needed, which makes it the ideal solution for when your partner or other carer needs to feed your baby. O’Flynn Medical stocks a wide variety of high-quality electric and manual breast pumps and can offer you expert advice on choosing the right model and using a breast pump. You can also make sure of our breast pump rental service, which allows you to make sure that it is the right solution for you before purchasing one. Using a breast pump gives mothers who cannot easily breastfeed their babies the opportunity to give their newborns access to the benefits of breastfeeding.
The benefits of breastfeeding make a clear case for more mothers to choose breastfeeding over using formula when possible and because of this more and more mothers are choosing to breastfeed their babies. National breastfeeding week offers the perfect opportunity for everyone to learn more about breastfeeding and the benefits that it offers to both mothers and babies.
Contact O’Flynn Medical today to get in touch with an expert who can give you advice on breastfeeding and the benefits of using a breast pump to give your newborn the best possible start in life.