Questions Women Ask About Breastfeeding


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Until the 1930's, breastfeeding was almost universally practiced.  At that time, infant formula made from modified cow milk was developed and became a symbol of an affluent society.  This led to a dramatic decline in breastfeeding.  Since the 1960's, studies have repeatedly proven the benefits of breastfeeding and the superiority of human milk.  With the support of the medical profession and parents alike, breastfeeding has enjoyed a resurgence to once again become the preferred infant feeding method.

Why is human milk the best choice?

Do breastfeeding mothers have to expose their breasts in public?

No.  Breastfeeding can be done very inconspicuously in the presence of other people.  A mother can turn her back to get started nursing and then use a blanket or shawl over the chest and shoulders to conceal the breast. Many onlookers think the mother is cuddling the baby.

It is helpful for mothers to practice breastfeeding at home for a while if they feel uncomfortable nursing around others.  Nursing in front of a mirror can be reassuring as to how little can be seen.  Many stores have comfortable rooms where mothers can nurse their babies.  A quick stop in a fitting room is also convenient.

Do women have to have large breasts to breastfeed?

No.  An adequate supply of milk is available whether the mother has large or small breasts.  The size of the breasts depends on the amount of fatty tissue they contain.  The more frequently the mother  nurses, the more milk is produced in the glands in the back of breast and is then carried to the nipple by the milk ducts.  This breastfeeding tissue develops early during pregnancy in every woman.

Does breastfeeding cause mothers to lose their figures?

Breast size increases during pregnancy and while nursing.  Breasts return to their pre-pregnancy state after weaning.  Breasts may become less firm after pregnancy but this is a result of pregnancy, not breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding has an extra advantage to help nursing mothers get back to their non-pregnancy figures.  The hormones produced during breastfeeding cause the uterus to contract and return to its pre-pregnancy state.  When breastfeeding is initiated immediately after delivery, bleeding is less since the uterus is already beginning to contract and reduce in size.

Most breastfeeding mothers lose the weight gained during pregnancy more quickly than non-nursing mothers.  It is important that the calories consumed by the breastfeeding mother be in the form of nutrient-rich foods rather than "empty calories" (sweets and fats).  Nursing mothers can participate in an exercise program of stretching or aerobics when the doctor gives approval.  Poor diet and lack o exercise can adversely affect the figure.

Do breastfeeding mothers have to follow a strict diet?

The only diet needed during breastfeeding is a well-balanced one.  Food intake can be increased since nutritional requirements are greater for protein, B vitamins, vitamins A, D, E, and C, calcium, phosphorus and iron.  Drinking to satisfy the nursing mother's thirst helps to prevent dehydration and supplies enough fluid to produce an adequate milk supply.  Caffeine and alcohol should be consumed in small amounts, if any, since small traces are passed through the milk to the infant.  Some mothers may find that certain foods upset their infants and thus may want to limit or eliminate those foods from their diets.

If a nursing mother does not eat a well-balanced diet, it is the mother's health that will be compromised.  The milk will still be nutritious and beneficial to the infant.  If the mother is truly malnourished the quality of her milk will remain constant but the quantity will be less.

What role can father play in breastfeeding and infant care?

There are many ways a father can have a special relationship with his baby.  he can hold his baby frequently to enhance their mutual attachment.  he can get involved in infant care such as diaper changing, bathing and dressing.  When mother goes shopping, exercising or to an appointment, father can feed the baby expressed milk if needed.  

A father can help protect breastfeeding by providing encouragement to the mother at times when she is tired or discouraged.  A father can also help with housework and food preparation to ensure that mother receives adequate rest and a balanced diet.  Anything special the father can do for the mother contributes to the ongoing success of breastfeeding.

Are breastfeeding parents more apt to be confined at home?

No. During the first months when babies need to be nursed often, usual activities can be carried out with the baby.  Breastfed babies are easy to take along almost anywhere.  Mother can just take an extra diaper or two, and when baby is hungry she can nurse and then resume her activity.

For short periods of time, after the baby has been nursed, mother can go out shopping, exercising or to lunch.  If it is necessary for her to be out longer, her milk can also be expressed manually or with a breast pump and given to the baby by the father or babysitter.  As babies get older the time lapse between feedings usually increases which allows parent to leave for more time-consuming activities.  Solid foods are usually introduced at about six months.  These can occasionally be given to satisfy baby's hunger until mother returns.  

Can breastfeeding be continued if the mother chooses to return to work or school?

Yes.  More and more women continue to breastfeed and return to work or school.  Planning ahead is essential.  Breast milk can be expressed once the milk supply is established.  The milk can be refrigerated or frozen and given to the baby at a later date.  The mother can also express her milk manually or with a breast pump at work or school when she has a break, preferably at the baby's usual feeding time.  This expressed milk can be used for the baby the following day.  A mother can continue to nurse her baby in the mornings, evenings and on weekends as before.

An alternate feeding method needs to be introduced before mother returns to work so the baby can adjust to it.  Ideally, someone other than the mother should give the supplemental feedings.  If using a bottle, mothers must be aware that this may cause the baby to refuse to nurse.  Patient persistence will result in the baby accepting breast as well as bottle.  

What is so special about human milk?

Each species of mammal produces milk to support the optimal growth of that species.  Since no two have the same needs, each species' milk differs.

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