The decision about whether to breastfeed a baby is a deeply personal and important one. There are a host of short and long-term health benefits to breastfeeding, for both mother and baby, but they don’t diminish the validity of formula. For couples and new parents, there’s a lot that goes into the decision of whether to breastfeed or use formula.
Though the choice might seem daunting, at its heart it’s nothing more than an open conversation about the pros and cons of both options. It’s one of the first choices you get to make for your baby. Being real with your co-parent about what you both want for your child has its own benefits as well — deep communication only works to strengthen a relationship. In the end, the decision is entirely personal — some people are unable to breastfeed, and some choose not to — the most important thing is that you weigh the options carefully and gather information to make whichever method you choose best for your baby.
For those who choose to breastfeed, there are a number of ways to make sure the nutrition in your breastmilk is maximized. There are some (but not many) dietary considerations, but you’ll be pleased to know that healthy breastmilk doesn’t require very much maintenance. Your body is very good at it! There are definitely ways to make sure the baby is getting everything they need. Indeed, many mothers may want to consider adding supplements to their natural milk and removing allergens from their diets.
Breastfeeding and Health for Mother and Baby
If you can breastfeed, there are a lot of great reasons to do it. Breastfeeding protects infants against a number of conditions and illnesses, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Beyond that, we are beginning to understand that breastfeeding could reduce the risks of long-term health problems that occur later in life. Breastfeeding is also related to a reduction of the chances for conduct and developmental disorders, which can have long-lasting effects on a child’s life and education.
The studies on the benefits of breastfeeding on a mother’s health are less clear cut. Observational studies have concluded that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of heart disease and stroke in mothers. According to the AAP, it also reduces the risks of breast and ovarian cancer.
There are a lot of great reasons to choose to breastfeed, but it’s important to make sure you’re both getting the most out of the health benefits.
How to Get the Most out of Breastfeeding
The good news here is that the body is very good at producing what babies need without much help from you. All you really need to worry about is staying healthy, unless there are additional circumstances, such as a history of lactose or peanut allergies, that require extra care.
For the most part, you don’t need to change your diet, eat special foods, or take vitamin supplements in order to produce healthy milk. Breastfeeding does expend calories, so you may notice an increase in the frequency of feeling hungry. That’s perfectly normal, and you should replace those calories.
Some things to consider avoiding include:
- Fish that are potentially high in mercury (such as swordfish, tuna, king mackerel).
- Milk or peanuts if your family has a history of allergies. Unlike almost all other foods, these do pass proteins directly into breast milk.
- You may want to restrict caffeine and alcohol, but you needn’t eliminate them.
One of the most important things you can do to make sure your baby gets the most out of breastfeeding is to feed them, or pump, regularly. This keeps your body active in breast milk production and ensures a steady nutrient intake for the baby!
While taking extra vitamins might be unnecessary, there are some supplements that can be helpful. Probiotic supplements like Evivo can give your little one a head start in healthy gut bacteria.
A particular irony in the efficiency of our healthcare has lead to a reduction in the “good bacteria” that gets transferred through breast milk. Antibiotics and other medical technologies have meant that we just don’t need to produce certain things. Our bodies are smart, and reactive, so sometimes they don’t. Probiotics, or “good bacteria” cultures, can be added to breast milk to make up for these deficiencies.
Whichever way you choose to feed your baby for the first few months of their life, remember that your body is extremely adaptable. We’re good at this without even trying! In fact, it takes some effort to get this part wrong.