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Breastfeeding Basics for Baby

    Recent research by child health experts has proven the conventional wisdom mothers have known for centuries: with very exceptions, there is nothing healthier for a newborn baby than breast milk. While there is still some debate over how long into childhood breastfeeding should continue, and also about the dangers of giving your baby breast milk substitutes, the proverbial "mother's milk" is still the most nutritional choice for children.

    Breastfeeding typically begins during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. The woman’s body begins producing a series of hormones that act to stimulate milk-producing glands in the breasts. These hormones include Estrogen, which compels the milk duct system to grow and become specific; Progesterone, which spurs growth of the alveoli and lobes; and Prolactin, which fills the breast with milk. After birth, the levels of Estrogen and Progesterone drop off while Prolactin levels remain high, spurring a period of intense milk production called lactogenesis.
Following an initial adjustment period, the mother settles into producing milk on an on-demand basis: the more that is needed, the more it produces. The mother's body may become so efficient that over time milk production becomes instinctual and reflexive. Some mothers begin to lactate, or spontaneously generate breast milk, when hearing a baby cry or suckle. There are even cases where a mother will lactate simply by thinking about breastfeeding!

    While the study of breast milk's exact composition is an ongoing effort, the proven benefits for children are wide-ranging and complex. Among other positive results, breastfeeding is shown to reduce the likelihood of asthma, allergies, diabetes, and Hodgkin's lymphoma. Research shows breast milk also includes amino acids and compounds that help ward off infection and bacteria, as well. There is also evidence to suggest that breastfeeding helps curtail obesity in babies and infants. As breastfeeding is more time-consuming and nutritious than simply giving the child a bottle of milk or formula, the child's diet remains more efficient and less prone to overfeeding, thereby reducing the chance of excessive weight gain.

Breastfeeding is also beneficial for the mother, helping her shed weight gained during the pregnancy and to restore her hormonal system to its pre-pregnancy levels. And of course, psychologists are quick to point out the profound bonding experience shared by the mother and breast-fed child. This bonding period is also a powerful antidote to postnatal depression, which some studies show affects up to 80 percent of new mothers.

In recent years, as the pace of life has increased, parents are quicker to take their babies into public at an earlier age. However, mothers of breastfeeding children are presented with the awkward choice of feeding their child in public or searching for another opportunity or locale in which to feed their hungry child. Many parents also feel embarrassed about breastfeeding their children in public, too, preferring the more discreet method of giving the child a bottle.

A recent four-year study sponsored by the Department of Agriculture and led by researchers at Cornell University sought to change cultural awareness of breastfeeding throughout Herkimer County in upstate New York. For three months, billboards, posters, and public service announcements permeated the community with a simple message: "babies are born to be breastfed." The public service messages ran during shows with an especially female demographic: "Oprah," "Dr. Phil," and on the Soap TV network.

The end results were hugely successful. 69 percent of men and 46 percent of women said they were comfortable with breastfeeding in public after the campaign. Child nutrition experts celebrated the findings as a major victory against child and infant obesity, while a Cornell professor involved with the study also claimed success in changing public perceptions about breastfeeding. The study, which spent over $1 million in advertising and promotional materials, was performed in conjunction with the Healthy Start Partnership of Herkimer County, a baby health and nutrition cooperative.
 

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