The hormones released during breastfeeding strengthen the mother’s nurturing feelings towards the child. Strengthening the maternal bond is very important as up to 80% of mothers suffer from some form of postnatal depression, though most cases are very mild. The woman’s partner and other caregivers can support her in a variety of ways and this support is an important factor in successful breastfeeding. Teaching partners how to manage common difficulties is associated with higher breastfeeding rates.
Breastfeeding can have an impact on the personal relationship between a mother’s partner and the child. While some partners may feel left out when the mother is feeding the baby, others see it as an opportunity for strengthening family bonds. Looking after a new baby and breastfeeding takes time. This can add pressure to the partner and the family, because the partner has to care for the mother as well as performing tasks she would otherwise do. However, as partners are often very willing to give this support, this pressure can help to strengthen family bonds.
If the mother is away, an alternative caregiver may be able to use expressed breast milk (EBM) to feed the baby. The various breast pumps available for sale and rent make it possible for working mothers to breastfeed their babies for as long as they want. However, the mother must produce and store enough milk to feed the child for the time she is away and this may not always be practical. Also, the other caregiver must be comfortable in handling breast milk. These two factors may prompt the mother – perhaps against her wishes – to switch to artificial feeding, either temporarily or permanently.
Time and place for breastfeeding
Breastfeeding at least once every two to three hours helps to keep up the milk production. For most women, a target of eight breastfeeding or pumping sessions every 24 hours keeps their milk production high It is common for newborn babies to feed more often than this: 10 to 12 breastfeeding sessions every 24 hours is common, and some may even feed 18 times a day. Feeding a baby on demand (sometimes referred to as "on cue"), which may mean breastfeeding many times more than the recommended minimum, feeding when the baby shows early signs of hunger, is the best way to maintain milk production and ensure the baby’s needs for milk and comfort are being satisfied. However, it may be important to recognize whether a baby is truly hungry, as breastfeeding too frequently may mean the child receives a disproportionately high amount of foremilk, and not enough hind milk, potentially creating problems.
Babies usually show they are hungry by waking up (newborns), mouthing their fists, moaning or fussing. Crying is a late indicator of hunger. When babies’ cheeks are stroked, the rooting instinct makes them move their face towards the stroking and open their mouth.
Breastfeeding can make mothers thirsty, especially at first, when both mother and baby are inexperienced and when feeding sessions can last for up to an hour or more (there is no time limit for breastfeeding). Having water readily available helps mothers maintain proper hydration.
Human Milk for Human Infants
The primary benefit of breast milk is nutritional. Human milk contains just the right amount of fatty acids, lactose, water, and amino acids for human digestion, brain development, and growth.
Cow’s milk contains a different type of protein than breast milk. This is good for calves, but human infants can have difficulty digesting it. Bottle-fed infants tend to be fatter than breast-fed infants, but not necessarily healthier.
Breast-fed babies have fewer illnesses because human milk transfers to the infant a mother’s antibodies to disease. About 80 percent of the cells in breast milk are macrophages, cells that kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. Breast-fed babies are protected, in varying degrees, from a number of illnesses, including pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections, and German measles. Furthermore, mothers produce antibodies to whatever disease is present in their environment, making their milk custom-designed to fight the diseases their babies are exposed to as well.
A breast-fed baby’s digestive tract contains large amounts of Lactobacillus bifidus, beneficial bacteria that prevent the growth of harmful organisms. Human milk straight from the breast is always sterile, never contaminated by polluted water or dirty bottles, which can also lead to diarrhea in the infant.
Human milk contains at least 100 ingredients not found in formula. No babies are allergic to their mother’s milk, although they may have a reaction to something the mother eats. If she eliminates it from her diet, the problem resolves itself.
Sucking at the breast promotes good jaw development as well. Its harder work to get milk out of a breast than a bottle, and the exercise strengthens the jaws and encourages the growth of straight, healthy teeth. The baby at the breast also can control the flow of milk by sucking and stopping. With a bottle, the baby must constantly suck or react to the pressure of the nipple placed in the mouth.
Nursing may have psychological benefits for the infant as well, creating an early attachment between mother and child. At birth, infants see only 12 to 15 inches, the distance between a nursing baby and its mother’s face. Studies have found that infants as young as 1 week prefer the smell of their own mother’s milk. When nursing pads soaked with breast milk are placed in their cribs, they turn their faces toward the one that smells familiar.
Many psychologists believe the nursing baby enjoys a sense of security from the warmth and presence of the mother, especially when there’s skin-to-skin contact during feeding. Parents of bottle-fed babies may be tempted to prop bottles in the baby’s mouth, with no human contact during feeding. But a nursing mother must cuddle her infant closely many times during the day. Nursing becomes more than a way to feed a baby; it’s a source of warmth and comfort.