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Breastfeeding is the act of feeding a baby with the milk from a mother's breast.

Science has proven that breast milk is really good not just for the baby but the mother as well. It helps babies grow stronger and protects them from illnesses and infections.

It can also stop the mother's womb from bleeding and protects her against several diseases like cancer or osteoporosis. Breast milk is also clean, free, and at the right temperature for feeding.

It also strengthens the bond between the mother and child.

How do breasts produce milk?

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When a baby sucks the breast, it signals the brain to release hormones, prolactin, and oxytocin. Prolactin makes milk while Oxytocin pushes muscles to squeeze milk out through the milk ducts. This process happens naturally to a woman who has given birth but this is not restricted to mothers.

So should every mother breastfeed?

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While "breast is best" is often pushed by everyone and their grandma, not everyone can physically breastfeed or wants to breastfeed. Again, breastfeeding is a choice. And this choice should be respected, not shamed or questioned.

Here are some alternatives to breastfeeding:

Milk Donors

Any woman who has an excessive milk supply donates her breastmilk for no fee whatsoever.

Finger Feeding

This requires feeding the baby milk through a narrow tube held in place by your finger, without the use of a bottle teat.

Organic Formula

Any baby formula which is without pesticide residue, growth hormones, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), synthetic chemicals and preservatives, and all toxic substances.

Homemade Formula

This is when a mother or her family make formula at home that they can feed the baby.

Who can breastfeed?

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Women of all ages — even those who are in menopause or have never been pregnant or given birth — can secrete milk from their breasts.

It's even recommended to breastfeed a baby you have adopted. If a new mother falls sick or passes away, her sister or friend can breastfeed a newborn. You also don't need to have large breasts to breastfeed. You can still breastfeed even if you have inverted or retracted nipples.

When shouldn't you breastfeed?

  • If you have human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II

  • If you're using cocaine, PCP, heroin, marijuana

  • If you're infected with HIV or undergoing chemotherapy, hormone therapy, and other targeted therapies

What happens if breast milk is given to someone else's child?

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If the child is fed someone other than their mother's milk by mistake or intentionally, it shouldn't cause fear or worry. A very small percentage of illnesses are carried over through breast milk. However, it's important to be transparent with parents if a mix-up happens.

So how long can I breastfeed my baby?

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Breastfeeding is quite a commitment and has to be done 8–12 times per day for the first month. Frequent feedings also play a role in regulating milk production. As the baby grows older, the feedings become less frequent. The time it takes to breastfeed depends on many aspects (e.g. age of baby), but a feeding session typically lasts 20 to 45 minutes.

It's recommended to breastfeed babies for at least one year. If you're breastfeeding, the baby needs nothing else for nutrition for the first 6 months. Even if you become pregnant during the time you're breastfeeding, you can continue to do it with your baby. If you have two babies of different ages who need to be breastfed, always breastfeed the younger one first.

How should I manage my diet if I am breastfeeding?

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Pregnancy and giving birth are intense experiences. If they're followed by breastfeeding, then the body needs rest, food, and care to recover. Your nutrition can play a big role in this.

Protein-rich food, good fats, and fruits and vegetables are important. When it comes to drinking, you should limit caffeine and consume lots of water, milk, teas, or unsweetened fresh fruit juices.

While alcohol isn't recommended, drinking in moderation has been shown to not majorly impact the baby's health.

Some women may feel pressure to lose pregnancy weight right away, but they need not diet or do major calorie reduction while they're breastfeeding, as it can impact their ability to feed their child.

Are there any disadvantages to breastfeeding?

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Initially, it might take a while for the baby to latch. It can take some time to adjust and can be painful in the initial few weeks. It requires a lifestyle change and may slow down a lot of your everyday activities.

Many places in the world have also not been designed in a way to accommodate feeding a child, so it may be difficult to find spaces to feed your child easily. Fortunately, now many airports and restaurants design spaces for mothers to feel comfortable feeding a child.

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This Byte has been authored by

SK

Saba Khalid

Founder & CEO at Aurat Raaj