By Genevieve Kelley, University of Connecticut Dietetic Intern
Officially launched in 2011, August is National Breastfeeding Month. Breastfeeding began to decline in popularity in the 1950’s when moms were led to believe formula was nutritionally superior to breast milk. The good news is breastfeeding has made a comeback in recent years as current research and healthcare professionals have emphasized the benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and the child.
Nutritional Benefits of Breastfeeding
One of the best ways to make sure your baby will grow into a healthy and happy child is to provide excellent nutrition from the start! The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months Then breastfeeding can continue along with added solid foods until the child is at least a year old.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Baby
Antibodies in a mother’s breast milk, which are not found in formula, help protect the baby from illness. Research has shown that breastfed infants have fewer ear infections, respiratory problems and a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The benefits of breastfeeding also extend beyond infancy with less chance of becoming obese and developing high blood pressure as the child grows older.
In addition, breast milk boasts the perfect combination of carbohydrate, protein, fat and vitamins for the growing baby. The first milk produced by the mother is called colostrum and has a yellow, creamy appearance. Colostrum meets the baby’s needs for the first week of life with higher levels of protein, less fat and carbohydrate and plenty of protective antibodies. Milk, produced after the baby’s first week of life, has more fat and carbohydrate to help the baby grow and is higher in water to keep the baby hydrated.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mom
Mom benefits from breastfeeding, too, with faster weight loss after delivery and a lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes. Furthermore, breastfeeding every few hours provides relaxing one-on-one time for mother and baby. It also has financial benefits because baby formula can be expensive.
Nutrition for the Breastfeeding Mother
A breastfeeding mother has increased nutritional needs. It’s essential to consume adequate calories to produce enough milk to meet the baby’s needs. Fluids and rest are also important to ensure sufficient milk production. Eating a balanced diet with fruits, vegetables, whole grains, low-fat dairy and lean protein will maintain optimum nutrition for both mom and baby. A Registered Dietitian can help a new mother plan a nutritious diet to meet her needs as well as those of her baby. While there are some situations when a mother cannot breastfeed her infant but, for the majority of women, the breast is best when it comes to meeting a baby’s nutritional needs. Consult with your doctor to determine the best way to feed your baby.
Genevieve Kelley was a May 2014 graduate of University of Connecticut Dietetic Internship program who wrote this blog during a nutrition communications rotation with Dallas registered dietitian nutritionist Neva Cochran in April.