Most parents who give birth can breastfeed their babies. Breast milk is sufficient as the sole food for infants for the first six months after birth. It not only satisfies hunger, but at the same time provides exactly as much liquid as the baby needs. It is also rich in substances that promote your baby’s growth and overall health. Breastfeeding your baby strengthens their body's defenses against disease, and better protects them against allergies and infections. Your breast milk passes antibodies and cells that your immune system has formed on to your child. Artificial milk does not contain these important ingredients. Also, the close skin contact during breastfeeding strengthens the emotional bond between you and your child. Last but not least, many parents find breastfeeding convenient. Breast milk is always at the right temperature and is always available. You will have these benefits even if you are only partially breastfeeding your baby.
The composition of breast milk changes over time. Already during pregnancy the colostrum is formed, which is also called the ‘first milk’. It is usually yellowish and thicker than mature breast milk, which your body doesn't produce until about 14 days after delivery. Colostrum is particularly rich in protein, vitamins and nutrients. It is easy for newborns to digest. Two to three days after giving birth, you will probably feel your breasts firming up. Thanks to this postpartum breast engorgement, your body begins to produce what’s known as ‘transitional milk’. It contains less protein and slightly more fats and milk sugars than the colostrum. When your baby is about three weeks old, your body makes mature breast milk. It also continues to change and adapt to the baby's needs over the months. The composition of the milk also changes over the course of the day. At night, for example, it is richer in fat.
Even during pregnancy, your body is preparing itself for breastfeeding by producing colostrum. This is already present from about the 20th week of pregnancy. Thanks to this, babies can nurse immediately after delivery. Newborns are also prepared. They practiced sucking in the womb by sucking their thumbs and drinking amniotic fluid. Breast milk tastes like amniotic fluid and gives the baby a familiar feeling. When you first put your baby to your breast, they should be lying on your tummy. They will probably start looking for and sucking on the breast within the next hour and a half. Give your baby time to find the breast on their own. If it doesn't work out, a midwife can help you. You can also put your baby to your breast after a c-section. Let someone help you with that. This will help you and your baby enjoy the first feeding. Basically, your baby should always lie fairly flat and on their side while drinking. Then it can best breathe, suck and swallow in peace.
You should give your baby the breast as often as they ask for it. Within 24 hours, most newborns want the breast ten or twelve times. Some babies even want to be breastfed more often. Over time, their needs change. After about four weeks, most babies can handle six to eight meals a day, including nighttime meals. If you breastfeed your baby as needed, your body will also produce the appropriate amount of breast milk.
How long you want to breastfeed your baby is your choice. Experts recommend feeding children exclusively with breast milk for the first six months of life and then to start feeding them complementary food. Even then, breast milk remains an important source of healthy nutrients. According to the World Health Organization, it is even good to breastfeed children until the age of two. But the important thing is that you do it the way that feels good and right for you and your baby.
Weaning means that parents and babies adjust to gradually breastfeeding less and then stop breastfeeding altogether. This way the baby gets used to more and more complementary food in the form of different purees or small tastes from the family table and gradually drinks less milk. Many people who breastfeed their babies want to decide for themselves when weaning will happen, for example if they go back to work. However, temporary separation from the baby is not necessarily a reason to stop breastfeeding. A good way to have someone else look after your baby for a few hours and still continue breastfeeding is to pump your breast milk. Seek advice from a midwife or breastfeeding consultant on how best to organise this. Until your child is one and a half years old, your health insurance will cover the cost of such counseling. If you then decide to wean, you should take time to say goodbye to breastfeeding together. Gradually replace breastfeeding meals with other foods. Give your child extra tenderness to make weaning easier. Some people wait until the child loses interest in the breast by themself. Your child may even still ask for the breast when it is two or three years old.
Some people cannot easily breastfeed their baby after birth, for example because the baby was born premature and has to be cared for in an incubator. In such cases, pumping breast milk is a great help. Very light babies initially receive the valuable nourishment via a feeding tube, i.e. a thin tube that leads into the stomach via the nose or mouth. Feeding with infant formula is only a sensible alternative if the administration of breast milk is actually not possible. It's important that you don't give up right away if breastfeeding problems occur. In most cases, your midwife or a lactation consultant can tell you what you need to do to make it work.