1. How long should I breastfeed my baby?
Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first 6 months of a baby’s life. Breastfeeding should continue up to the baby’s first birthday as new foods are introduced. You can keep breastfeeding after the baby’s first birthday for as long as you and your baby would like.
It should be noted, if you are pregnant and currently breastfeeding, suckling can stimulate uterine contractions. Therefore, pregnant women at high risk of preterm delivery should avoid breastfeeding during pregnancy. It’s important for expectant mothers to increase their fluid and caloric intake in order to provide enough nutrition for their baby as well as an older child that is still breastfeeding.
2. How does breastfeeding benefit my baby?
• Breast milk has the right amount of fat, sugar, water, protein, and minerals needed for a baby’s growth and development. As your baby grows, your breast milk changes to adapt to the baby’s changing nutritional needs.
• Breast milk is easier to digest than formula.
• Breast milk contains antibodies that protect infants from certain illnesses, such as ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, and allergies. The longer your baby breastfeeds, the greater the health benefits.
• Breastfed infants have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
• Breast milk can help reduce the risk of many of the short-term and long-term health problems that preterm babies face.
• Breastfed infants may have lower incidence of chronic diseases including obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease.
3. How can I tell if my baby is hungry?
When babies are hungry, they look alert, bend their arms, close their fists, and bring their fingers to their mouths. Offer your baby your breast when he or she first starts bringing fingers to his or her mouth. Crying is a late sign of hunger, and an unhappy baby will find it harder to latch. When full, babies relax their arms and legs and close their eyes.
4. How often should I breastfeed my baby?
Let your baby set his or her own schedule. During the first weeks of life, most babies feed at least 8–12 times in 24 hours, or at least every 2–3 hours (timed from the start time of one feeding to the start time of the next feeding.
5. What kinds of foods should I eat while breastfeeding?
• Your body needs about 450–500 extra calories a day to make breast milk for your baby. If your weight is in the normal range, you need about 2,500 total calories per day.
• Eat fish and seafood 2–3 times a week, but avoid eating fish with high mercury levels. Do not eat shark, swordfish, king mackerel, or tilefish, and limit albacore tuna to 6 ounces a week.
• Your health care professional may recommend that you continue to take your prenatal multivitamin supplement while you are breastfeeding.
• Drink plenty of fluids, and drink more if your urine is dark yellow.
• Avoid alcohol use as small amounts of alcohol can be transferred into breast milk. Contrary to common belief, alcohol can also reduce milk production.
For more breastfeeding FAQs and pregnancy-related information, download or print CareMount Medical’s Pregnancy Welcome Kit, “From Pre-Conception to Motherhood.”