Breastfeeding is More than Just a Meal

Nursing is a natural continuation of the birth process because it completes the maternity cycle. Just as you nourished your baby prior to birth with nutrients from within your body, you continue to supply your baby with the food that is best suited to his needs—your breastmilk.

In addition to providing nutrients, breastfeeding also helps you foster a special relationship—a close physical and emotional bond with your baby. This relationship is unique in that your baby is totally dependent on you for his nourishment. This giving of yourself is an expression of your love for him, and it can result in many enjoyable and rewarding hours for both of you. Some of your fondest memories will be of the times spent nursing your baby.

Your success at breastfeeding will depend greatly on your desire to nurse, as well as on the encouragement you receive from those around you. Because of the importance of your husband’s support, the decision to breastfeed should be a mutual one. His knowledge and understanding can provide you with a source of strength on those “trying” days when you might be tempted to give up. In addition, support from your caregiver, relatives, and friends is most helpful. Knowing a mother who successfully breastfed a child or who is a member of La Leche League can be extremely beneficial when you have questions. (For a complete discussion about this organization for nursing mothers, see “La Leche League”.)

Professional support can provide you with a higher level of expertise. Two types of counselors are available to answer your questions and to assist you if you have problems. A certified lactation consultant has completed a prescribed course and passed an exam to receive her certification. She is a specialist in private practice and will charge a fee for her services, unless she is employed by your pediatrician or hospital. (For more information about lactation consultants, see “Certified Lactation Consultants”.)

Many women have been helped by counselors who volunteer their time and knowledge to promote breastfeeding and assist nursing mothers. A volunteer breastfeeding counselor has accumulated her knowledge through personal experience, reading, and attending classes. She does not charge a fee. Counselors can provide phone consultations as well as instruction in group settings. They may be part of an organization such as La Leche League.

Several other important factors can help you have a successful breastfeeding experience. Understanding how breastmilk is produced and supplied to the baby, along with how to properly position your baby, will help to prevent most of the problems of nursing. Good personal care is another key element in successful nursing—nutritious food and adequate rest are mandatory. Plan for extra help around the house, especially if you have other children.

In 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics updated its policy on breastfeeding to recommend that women breastfeed exclusively until the baby is 6 months old, when solids are introduced, and continue past the child’s first birthday, for as long as is mutually desired. This expanded length for optimum nursing is in response to the increased knowledge about the health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, psychological, social, economic, and environmental benefits of breastfeeding.