Why Breast Milk Is So Good for Your Baby

Woman burping baby after breast feeding

As you get closer to delivery, you may be wondering about the benefits of breast milk for your baby.

Production of Breast Milk

Even during pregnancy, your body is preparing to produce breast milk. You may notice in the third trimester that you're leaking colostrum, or early milk. After your baby is born, his/her suckling at your breast signals your body to start producing nutrient-rich milk. Your baby's cry actually signals your body's let-down-reflex. This is why your breasts may leak when you hear a baby cry, even if he/she is not your own child. Staring at or talking to your baby while you breastfeed can also signal your body to release more milk.

The let-down-reflex is when your body releases milk. When your let-down-reflex kicks in, you may feel tingling, stinging, burning, or prickling in your breasts. Though this sounds uncomfortable, it usually only lasts for a few seconds.

Composition

Breast milk contains the perfect blend of fats, proteins, and carbohydrates for your baby. It also contains important vitamins, minerals, and hormones that your baby needs for proper growth and development. In addition, human milk also contains antibodies that help your baby fight infection. For example, if you get a cold, your baby will get the antibodies you produce. When your baby is exposed to a cold, his/her immune system will be better prepared.

Nutrition Needed

If you are breastfeeding, you need to be taking in 2,700 calories a day. This is an increase over what you should have been consuming during pregnancy. You also need to be drinking at least eight glasses of fluid (mostly water) a day. If you are having difficulty drinking enough water, try to drink a glass every time you sit down to breastfeed your baby.

Additionally, you need to make sure you are taking in enough calcium, protein, Vitamin A, and Vitamin C. While you are breastfeeding, you do not need as much folic acid and iron as you did when you were pregnant, though you will need more of these vitamins and minerals than before you were pregnant. If you were taking a prenatal vitamin, you should continue to take it until you wean your baby.

Benefits for Your Baby

Your body will produce the exact amount of breast milk that your baby needs. If you are eating a well-balanced diet, your body is producing exactly what your baby needs nutritionally. Babies that are breastfed develop faster, are healthier, and have higher IQs than formula fed babies. In addition, sucking on the breast will help your baby's jaw develop appropriately and help his/her teeth grow in straight.

How does Breast Milk Compare to Formula?

The exact chemical composition of breast milk is unknown, but it contains at least 100 additional ingredients not found in formula. Experts know formula does not contain the same nutrients, vitamins, minerals, antibodies, or hormones. No babies are allergic to their mother's milk, though your baby may be allergic to something you ate. In addition, breast milk is more easily digested than formula.

Formula requires a clean bottle with a clean nipple. Formula is usually sold in a powdered form that you will have to mix with water and measure according to the directions included. The water you use has to be warm, or the formula itself has to be warmed before you give it to your baby. Depending on your tap water, you may have to use bottled (not distilled) water. Additionally, formula is extremely expensive.

Milk Banks

If you cannot produce milk, have adopted your baby, or have health complications that prevent you from breastfeeding, there are human milk banks. You will need a doctor's prescription to receive donor milk. Donor milk is safe; all the donors are carefully screened for health risks. Donor milk does tend to be expensive, though your insurance company may help. If you are serious about needing donor milk and cannot afford it, contact milk banks and explain your situation. They may be able to help.

Additional Resources

Why Breast Milk Is So Good for Your Baby