Breastfeeding Benefits and Challenges

March 1st, 2024 | 12:33 pm

Breastfeeding is recommended for infants up to 6 months of age, followed by the introduction of appropriate complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed. It is the best source of nutrition for babies to support their growth and development. Breastfeeding offers the first chance of bonding between mother and child and is required to maintain optimal health of both.

There are many benefits to breastfeeding, as supported by the World Health Organization (WHO), which asserts that breastfeeding should be continued until a child is two years old. However, there are challenges to it, too. In this article, we will discuss the benefits of breastfeeding and the challenges faced by mothers so that they can begin breastfeeding with the utmost preparedness.

How Breastfeeding is Beneficial for Mothers

There are many health benefits of breastfeeding which aren’t just limited to nursing for the baby’s health, including: 

  • During the gestational period, the uterus expands greatly to accommodate the growing foetus. After delivery of the baby, it returns to its normal size through involution. When a mother breastfeeds, a hormone known as oxytocin is released, which is essential for the contraction of the uterus along with reducing postpartum bleeding.
  • Breastfeeding women may also have a reduced risk of obesity, type-2 diabetes, arthritis, and even heart diseases. 
  • There are some long-term benefits of breastfeeding in preventing oncologic diseases, such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
  • Breastfeeding can also prevent ovulation, thereby stopping menstruation. This reduces the chances of getting pregnant right after delivery and provides ample time between successive pregnancies.  

Breastfeeding extends beyond simply providing nourishment to the baby; it also serves as a means of bonding with the newborn baby. It is a means of comfort to the babies and may even help deal with the pain of vaccinations, as one study had suggested. Furthermore, it may be easier to soothe a crying baby through breastfeeding. It may give a sense of confidence to new mothers.

How Breastfeeding Benefits Infants

Breast milk is ideal for newborn babies as it is rich in antibodies and fatty acids that are necessary for the growth and nourishment of the baby. Breast milk also helps fortify the immune system of the neonates.

In the early days of breastfeeding, the baby gets a thick liquid rich in antibodies known as colostrum. Colostrum is essential for sustaining the babies and empowering their immune system until breast milk comes in.

There are several long-term benefits in reducing the risk of various health conditions, such as:

  • Type-1 and type-2 diabetes
  • Heart diseases
  • High cholesterol
  • Obesity
  • Cancers like childhood leukaemia

Other diseases that can be avoided by breastfeeding babies may include:

  • Ear infections
  • Eczema
  • Cold and infections, particularly respiratory infections
  • Stomach problems, such as diarrhoea and vomiting
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a potentially fatal stomach disease that primarily affects premature babies
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

It has also been observed that breastfeeding babies are less likely to become picky eaters later on in life. Additionally, breastfed babies tend to be in a healthy weight range and are less likely to become obese. Some studies have also suggested a potential link between breastfeeding and having good cognitive abilities in their childhood. Such babies tend to be more intelligent and less likely to experience behavioural problems.

Challenges Faced During Breastfeeding

Both the mother and the newborn may take time to get used to breastfeeding. It may even be difficult for the mother to breastfeed the baby in certain circumstances. Some of the challenges faced by mothers during breastfeeding have been discussed below: 

  • Issues with breast milk

The earliest weeks are often the most difficult for a first-time mother. They may face issues with low or absence of milk supply in the beginning. Sometimes, there can be too much milk production. Some women may experience pain or cracking in the nipples. It is also possible for some mothers to develop mastitis, a potentially severe breast infection. 

  • Adjustment issues 

It may take time for newborn babies to adjust their sleep cycle, which can mean that their mothers have a tough time adjusting too and are often awake at night. The constant demands and lack of adequate sleep can be quite challenging in the first few months.

  • Lack of autonomy

While it’s true that breastfeeding enhances bonding between the mother and child, breastfeeding exclusively can tether a woman to her baby, potentially affecting their lives negatively. Women who pump breast milk and store it may also experience similar sentiments.

  • Lack of social support

While many social and medical organisations may be able to provide support and education about supporting a baby through the first stages of life, where breastfeeding is of utmost importance, it may not be enough. The baby may have latching issues in the beginning or may have grown older but still breastfeeds; the impacts have to be dealt with by the mother. 

They may face judgement from family members or be pressured into stopping breastfeeding earlier than they would like. They may also feel socially outcast as they may not be aware of the type of activities that are safe for them to engage in while still breastfeeding.

  • Uneven distribution of parenting work

The task of feeding a baby can fall exclusively on the mother even when the baby progresses towards trying other foods. If another parent or caregiver doesn’t contribute to household chores or take up other responsibilities associated with the baby, such as changing diapers, soothing them, or getting up at night as the baby awakens, the breastfeeding experience can be exhausting. 

Overcoming Breastfeeding Challenges

It can be exhausting to deal with all the social and personal challenges faced by mothers during breastfeeding and beyond. To ease their job a little, it is important for them to seek help from healthcare providers or join parenting groups on lactation and dealing with the challenges associated with it. It is important for mothers to obtain correct and adequate information so that they feel supported and continue breastfeeding as long as they are willing to do.

Optimal Duration of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is recommended for at least six months after birth and can be continued for up to two years, alongside providing the baby with other soft foods. This is the best form of nutrition that babies can get from their mothers.

To obtain more information about breastfeeding and to talk about any issues faced, consult only the best gynaecologists.