Health & Fitness

Keeping Kids Fit: The benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby

Most pregnant women decide early in their pregnancy that they will breastfeed their newborn. They recognize it is important for the health and development of their new baby. But many soon-to-be moms get discouraged along the way because they hear it is difficult and painful.

Breastfeeding is a learned skill. It requires patience and practice. For some women, the learning stages can be frustrating and uncomfortable. And some situations may make breastfeeding even harder, such as health problems with the mother or the baby, or an unplanned complication in the delivery. The good news is that it does get easier, and support for breastfeeding mothers is growing, especially in our hospitals.

Our goal at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System is to encourage all mothers to breastfeed exclusively during their postpartum hospital stay. We also want them to achieve the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation of exclusively breastfeeding for at least the first six months, with supplemental foods only being added at that time. The ideal is to continue breastfeeding until the baby is 12 months old or as long as both mother and baby want to.

Mother’s milk is more than nutrition for your baby; it also protects your newborn from getting sick. Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of lower respiratory infections, asthma, allergies and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). It continues to protect your child long after breastfeeding has stopped. For example, it lowers a child’s risk of being overweight later in life and it lowers his or her risk for adult diabetes and some types of cancer and leukemia.

Breastfeeding is also good for the mother. It lowers your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and postpartum depression. Breastfeeding burns about 600 calories per day, making it easier for moms to lose baby weight.

Breastfeeding also helps in other ways, like developing your baby’s brain and creating a close bond between you and your child. Breastfeeding saves the family money, as there’s no need for formula and bottles. It also cuts costs in health care and lessens the days parents miss from work to care for a sick child. Lastly, breast milk is safe and always available at the right temperature during a natural disaster, a very important benefit in Florida.

To prepare for breastfeeding, the most important thing a mother can do is to have confidence in herself. Committing to breastfeeding begins with the belief that you can do it. To make this journey easier, we recommend that you plan ahead, identify a support system, attend a breastfeeding class, join a breastfeeding support group and discuss your breastfeeding plan with your obstetrician during prenatal care visits and at the time of delivery.

After the baby is born, following these steps can help you get off to a great start:

▪ Your baby should be placed skin to skin on your chest as soon as possible after delivery and kept there until the first breastfeeding occurs.

▪ You and your baby should be in a room together all day and night so that you can identify your baby’s feeding cues and breastfeed often.

▪ Do not give your baby any other food or formula unless it is medically necessary.

▪ Avoid giving the baby artificial nipples or pacifiers until breastfeeding has been well established – usually four to six weeks.

▪ Request an on-site lactation consult as soon as any problems are identified.

The most common question a new mother has is, “How do I know how much milk my baby is getting?” At birth, the baby’s stomach is very small and can comfortably digest about one to two teaspoons. In the first week, the baby’s stomach grows to hold about two ounces. You will provide your newborn baby with exactly what he or she needs, breastfeeding eight to 12 times per day.

Initially your breastmilk will have colostrum, a nutrient and immunologically rich golden fluid that will provide your baby with important antibodies to help fight infections. The more you breastfeed and empty your breast, the more milk you will make. Your full milk supply will be established within four to eight days, and you will get into a comfortable routine as the baby is satiated.

All newborns lose a small amount of weight in the first days after birth. They regain this weight within two weeks, so it is very important that a doctor see your breastfed baby within one to two days from hospital discharge and then again at two to three weeks of age to ensure adequate weight gain. At these visits, the doctor can also address any breastfeeding challenges you may have.

While breastfeeding is natural, mothers may still need advice and support. If you need more information, call the National Breastfeeding Helpline at (800) 994-9662.

Marta Galarza, M.D., is a neonatal-perinatal pediatrician and Medical Director of the Intermediate Care Nursery at UHealth – the University of Miami Health System. For more information, visit