Breast milk is best for your baby, and the benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond basic nutrition. In addition to containing all the necessary vitamins and nutrients your baby needs in the first six months of life, breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect your baby from illness. Throughout the period of feeding the composition of breast milk changes matching the needs of the baby.
WHO recommends to exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life. After that, recommends the introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods together with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.
Immediately after birth (and sometimes, in the third trimester of pregnancy) colostrum - a thick, viscous yellowish liquid is released. The amount of nutrient substances in colostrum and its energy value are significantly greater than mature milk. Colostrum is rich in proteins, carbohydrates with a low content of fat. Together with colostrum, useful microorganisms (bifidobacteria and lactobacilli) and other elements contributing to the formation of healthy intestinal flora, are received by the baby.
Colostrum also contains high concentrations of protective white cells (leukocytes) which can destroy disease-causing bacteria and viruses.
Colostrum is extremely easy to digest, and is therefore the perfect first food for your baby. It is low in volume (measurable in teaspoons), but high in concentrated nutrition for the newborn. Colostrum has a laxative effect on the baby, helping him pass his early stools, which aids in the excretion of excess bilirubin and helps prevent jaundice.
The colostrum gradually changes to mature milk during the first two weeks after birth. When your baby is breastfed early and often, your breasts will begin producing mature milk around the third or fourth day after birth. Your milk will then increase in volume and will generally begin to appear thinner and whiter (more opaque) in color. In those first few days it is extremely important to breastfeed your newborn at least 8-12 times each 24 hours, and more often is even better. This allows your baby to get all the benefits of the colostrum and also stimulates production of a plentiful supply of mature milk. Frequent breastfeeding also helps prevent engorgement.
During this transition, the concentrations of the antibodies in your milk decrease, but your milk volume greatly increases. The disease-fighting properties of human milk do not disappear with the colostrum. In fact, as long as your baby receives your milk, he will receive immunological protection against many different viruses and bacteria.
Babies should be fed when they indicate hunger. Crying is a late indicator of hunger – breastfeeding is much easier for both mom and baby if mom is able to pick up on baby’s earlier hunger cues.
Babies can breastfeed even when not fully awake. Once your baby is feeding, some of the ideas above can be used to keep him awake and feeding. In addition, it can help to switch breasts each time your baby slows in his sucking and starts to doze off. Take him off, burp him and wake him again to start on the other side. He can have each side more than once if he stays awake.
Remember, breastfeeding should not be painful. A good latch will help keep discomfort to a minimum. When the baby has not latched on well, other problems can develop including cracked and sore nipples. Once you get accustomed to positioning your baby and helping him/her get a good latch, breastfeeding can be a wonderful, pain-free bonding experience between you and your baby.
Disclaimer* Important Note: Breastfeeding should be maintained as long as possible, however if this is not possible, a pediatrician can help you choose a suitable breast milk substitute.