Breast Milk: The Most Optimal for Infant Growth
Breast milk is regarded as the optimal source of nutrition for all infants. Exclusive breastfeeding promotes development of an infant’s immune system; meeting the nutritional needs of a full-term infant until approximately six months of age.
On one hand, many international groups recommend exclusive breastfeeding without the combination of infant formula, foods or liquids for the first six months. On the other, there are many reasons why women choose not to breastfeed as well. Some of the reasons include low amounts of milk produced by the mother, painful mastitis, embarrassment, lack of understanding on the benefits of breast milk, and a belief that formula milk has equal nutrients to breast milk.
When To Start Breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding should begin within the first few hours of delivery, by allowing the baby to rest or nurse, skin-to-skin, on the mother’s chest. During the first few days after delivery, the mother produces a small amount of thick, yellowish milk called colostrum. Colostrum is rich in nutrients and provide all the calories a baby needs for the first few days.
Many mothers worry that their infants are not getting enough milk immediately after delivery, when there are small, limited amounts of colostrum produced. Infants are born with an excess of fluid and sugar stores that they are able to use as the mother’s milk supply increases.
It is normal to only produce small amounts of milk immediately after giving birth. With frequent, continued breastfeeding, larger amounts of milk will be produced typically within three to five days. Infants normally lose weight during the first few days of life and will gradually regain this weight approximately two weeks after birth.
Benefits of Breastfeeding
Frequency and Length of Feeding
Women are encouraged to breastfeed as soon as the infant begins to show signs of hunger. Early signs of hunger include awakening, searching for breast, sucking on the hands, lips or tongue. Most infants do not cry until they are very hungry. It is not recommended to breastfeed only when the infant cries.
In the first one to two weeks, most infants will be breastfed eight to12 times daily. Some infants have a preference to be nursed frequently (as often as every 30 to 60 minutes), while others have to be awakened and encouraged to nurse. During the first week of life, mothers are encouraged to wake a sleeping infant to be nursed if the infant has not been fed for four hours.
The length of time an infant needs to finish breastfeeding varies. In the first few weeks after delivery, some infants require as little as five minutes while others need 20 minutes or more. It is not necessary to switch sides in the middle of a nursing session. Emptying the milk from one breast allows the baby to consume higher nutrient and fat content milk from the deeper tissues in the breast.
Does Breast Milk Have All the Nutrients My Infant Needs?
It is not necessary to give formula milk, bottled water, or glucose water supplements to a full-term infant who has been gaining weight consistently. Even in hot climates like Singapore, parents do not need to give water or fruit juice to a breastfed infant until approximately six months old.
Certain vitamins or mineral supplements may be recommended for some full-term breastfeeding infants. For example:
Vitamin D – parents can consider giving vitamin D supplements to exclusively breastfed infants within days of birth. Breast milk contains vitamin D, although usually not in adequate amounts to meet the infant’s needs. The other source of vitamin D is sunlight, which might not be exactly appropriate for a young infant due to the potential risk of sunburn, that outweighs the potential benefits of sun exposure.
Vitamin B12 – if a mother follows a vegan or vegetarian diet, the infant should be given a multivitamin supplement that includes vitamin B12. Low levels of vitamin B12 can lead to anaemia, developmental delay and other neurological problems.
Iron – Pre-term or low birth weight infants may need an additional multivitamin supplement that contains iron. Iron deficiency may affect the child’s red blood cell count and has been associated with mild impairment of the immune system.
Parents may consider reaching out to our health professionals for more in-depth information for questions and concerns related to breastfeeding.