Breastfeeding is a mother’s gift to herself, her baby and the earth.—Pamela K. Wiggins
When I got pregnant with my 3rd child in 2018, I only had one thing on my mind: I would exclusively breastfeed my baby, no ifs and no buts. My 3rd pregnancy came as a sweet surprise and I made myself ready for exclusive breastfeeding, which I was not able to do for my eldest and which I did with my 2nd child for only about 10 months. I told myself back then, it’s going be different this time. I read a lot about the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding as well as extended breastfeeding. I even attended some workshops to get myself ready. I prepped myself that exclusive breastfeeding would be the only option for me and my baby.
Today, 2 years later, I am still breastfeeding my toddler. No signs of weaning and no plans of stopping. My child will take the lead and I will just allow her to breastfeed as long as she likes. We have come this far in our breastfeeding journey. Surely, we had our hiccups, bumps, and some doubts. But one thing is for sure, exclusive breastfeeding gave me a different kind of confidence as a mother and as a woman.
What is exclusive breastfeeding?
Exclusive breastfeeding is defined as feeding with breast milk exclusively for the first 6 months of your baby’s life. This means that the intake of water, other forms of liquid, or solid food is not recommended until your baby is 6 months old and is ready for complementary feeding. An exception has been made, as medicines and supplements are allowed, especially if your baby is sick or has vitamin deficiencies.
The benefits of exclusive breastfeeding
As a breastfeeding mother myself, I experienced and still experience the wonderful benefits of nursing my toddler. What I am about to tell you is my first-hand account of how exclusive breastfeeding changed my life, our lives.
It is true that there are so many advantages when you decide to breastfeed your child. The World Health Organization emphasizes the health benefits and importance of exclusive breastfeeding not only to your child, but you as a mother. But did you know that exclusive breastfeeding has a huge benefit for your family too? Here are the advantages that exclusive breastfeeding has for you, your baby, and your family:
For your baby
- Your breast milk is the best food tailored to your baby’s needs. Your baby may get the full nutrition he needs with just your breast milk in the first 6 months of life.
- Since your breast milk provides superior nutrition for your baby, incidents involving illnesses and hospitalization are fewer. There is also less risk of allergies and other diseases among children who are breastfed compared to those who are not.
- Your baby will have much better oral health. Breast milk has antibodies in it that help in preventing bacteria causing tooth decay and cavities.
- Breast milk is sterile and is safe to consume, anywhere, anytime. My country, the Philippines, is a country often hit by typhoons, and sometimes such incidents leave us with unsafe tap water. Health experts say breastfeeding should be practiced when people are unsure whether the water is safe for drinking or not. This issue is not only relevant to the Philippines but also to countries that do not have a clean supply of water or where water becomes contaminated during natural disasters, as it may compromise the safety of your child.
- Exclusive breastfeeding does not only promote good physical health, but it plays a vital role in the brain development of a child; thus it is said that breastfeeding has a positive effect on the intelligence quotient (IQ) of a child.
- Breastfeeding provides an emotional bond between your baby and you and this can also make your baby calmer. Some babies are even into comfort feeding, which can soothe them and can perhaps give them a happy disposition.
For the mother
- Breastfeeding helps you recover faster upon giving birth. I remember how I felt the contractions in my abdomen when my baby started to latch on me. As my obstetrician told me, the contractions are very normal and this helped my uterus to go back to its pre-pregnancy size and decrease blood flow from my delivery.
- Lactation is a good form of contraception for the first 6 months after delivery. When you breastfeed, there is a possibility for you to have lactational amenorrhea, but this is not a reliable form of contraception when your baby starts to eat solid food. I personally experienced lactational amenorrhea and did not have my monthly period in 23 months after giving birth. Don’t fret about it as this is totally normal for those who are exclusively breastfeeding.
- You can lose your excess weight and go back to your pre-pregnancy weight much faster than those who bottle-feed. How to lose weight when exclusively breastfeeding? A breastfeeding mom, like you, actually loses around 500-700 calories more per day by simply producing milk for your baby. However, since breastfeeding makes you burn a lot of calories, it is not advisable to consume less than 1800 calories per day to safely lose at least 1 pound per week.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of certain diseases such as osteoporosis, breast and ovarian cancers, and heart disease.
- No need to get up at night to prep the milk! Sleeping was never a problem for me when I just gave birth because I do the side-lying position when breastfeeding. As soon as my baby unlatches, I get to go back to sleep. But be careful when doing the side-lying position when you nurse for the first couple of months as it may pose some risk to your baby.
For the family
- Breastfeeding is economical. Imagine not needing to buy formula milk, which can be costly. By the way, we are not always talking about a can per week here; some babies can consume more than that on a weekly basis.
- Again, breastfeeding can help the family save some more money. When you breastfeed exclusively, you do not need to buy feeding bottles and other accessories; you don’t even need a pacifier. Your breast and your milk are all that you and your baby will ever need.
- Breastfeeding does not only save money for the household, but it can also save some time and energy not only for you as the mother, but for the family member who is involved in taking care of your newborn. You will not need to wash and sterilize the bottles each and every use and you will not need to carry huge diaper bags when you are going out.
The downside of exclusive breastfeeding
Even the best things in life have a disadvantage, and breastfeeding is not an exception. Although the benefits outweigh the downside, it is still good to know these factors too.
- The first couple of days can be painful. You may even feel like giving up because of breastfeeding pains. There are various reasons why breastfeeding can be a problem. I remember having clogged ducts and breast engorgement, and I literally cried, but thanks to my lactation consultant, I was able to pull through those breastfeeding difficulties. By the way, an important thing to know is that your baby must latch to your breast properly. Based on my experience, if it’s painful to feed, check your latch and your position, this could do the trick to breastfeed with ease.
- Breastfeeding can be overwhelming. Your newborn will have to be fed very frequently, so this means that you and your breast have to be available almost 24/7. You might not even feel like going out without the baby because no one can give him milk other than you.
- You should always be paying attention to your diet. Remember, whatever you eat and drink can have cause reaction in your baby. This also includes prescription medicines for some illnesses. Always inform your practitioner that you are nursing so he can prescribe medicine that is safe for breastfeeding moms.
- Some people are not comfortable with you breastfeeding your baby in their presence. This is a normal reaction, especially when you are in public. There are breastfeeding rooms available in some establishments that you can use to feed your baby. However, babies cannot wait when they are hungry. In this case, you can use nursing clothes and covers, which are readily available today.
Breastmilk: the liquid gold
Although formula feeding is the next best thing in nourishing your baby, mother’s milk is jam-packed with nutritional value that nothing can ever compare with. The calorie content, minerals, proteins, and carbohydrates of your breast milk are always the best when it comes to nutritional value. Not to mention that breast milk has anti-infective properties that are not found both in animal and formula milk. Liquid gold, indeed.
Tips for successful breastfeeding
As a nursing mom myself, there is an important thing that I would like to tell you based on my experience. Breastfeeding is difficult. BUT it is just hard for the first couple of days. And believe me, when you have a routine that works for you, your baby has adjusted, and your milk supply has already been established, everything will come naturally. It will definitely be a breeze.
Here are some of my personal tips for a successful breastfeeding journey:
- Put in your mind that breastfeeding will be your only option, unless there is an underlying medical condition with you or your baby. Start your “mind conditioning” the moment you learn about the pregnancy and prepare yourself physically, emotionally, and mentally that you will be breastfeeding. Talk to your obstetrician about your birthing plans, which include breastfeeding.
- You may find yourself wondering if you have enough milk to nourish your baby in his first few days. Don’t worry, as your milk becomes more abundant after a few days, but this does not mean that your baby is getting less. As a rule of thumb, check your baby’s diaper. If he pees and soils his diaper often then it means he is getting enough milk from you. So ditch the formula, the bottles, and the pacifiers. You won’t be needing these, especially if your milk already “comes in” after a few days.
- Go for “unli-latch,” letting your infant nurse whenever they want. Breastfeeding goes by the law of demand and supply. The more your baby latches on you, the more milk you will produce.
- Don’t forget about yourself, Mama. I set time for myself. I take even just a few minutes to do the things that I love, like reading a book, listening to music, or even watching a favorite TV show. Breastfeeding can be tiring at times, so you need a little break for yourself too!
- Take an online breastfeeding class. Birth Boot Camp offers an excellent course entitled Breastfeeding: The Ultimate MRE that covers all the important topics you need to know when breastfeeding.
I can go on and on telling you things that helped me with breastfeeding, but one thing is for sure, my determination to nourish my baby and the support of my family says a lot about why we are still breastfeeding for more than 24 months and counting.
Breastfeeding as a working mom
A lot of moms may wonder, since exclusive breastfeeding requires extra time and effort, will it be possible to exclusively nurse your baby when you need to go back to work? The answer is a big YES! When I had my second child, I was still working as a full-time employee. After my maternity leave, I kept thinking about whether I should continue to breastfeed or not. Honestly, I was leaning toward continuing breastfeeding for financial reasons.
I had to resort to breast pumping every 3-4 hours at work based on how frequently my baby was feeding at that time. I needed to pump enough milk for my baby to consume the next day. Night time is not a problem at all, because my baby directly fed from me. It is also a good way to prevent nipple confusion on my baby’s part. So if there was an opportunity to feed directly, we always did that.
It sure was tedious on my part because I had to express my milk while I was busy with work. But looking back, I knew I made the right decision and it was all worth it.
Keeping up breastfeeding
Exclusive breastfeeding is one of the most wonderful abilities you have as a mother. My breastfeeding journey is not easy and for sure, there have been times when I wanted to wean my baby. Do you know what keeps me going? It is the thought that my body is producing not only the best form of nourishment, but also I get to show my child that my body is designed as a haven of love and comfort.