1. Building baby's immunity. You probably have heard the slogan "breast is best" over and over if you're pregnant or have had children. There are so many benefits for baby and for you to breastfeed. A breastfed baby's immunity is boosted so much so that their bodies are more likely to resist disease and infection. This is because research has shown that while nursing, a mother passes on antibodies to baby and important vitamins/nutrients. Also the risk of allergies is much lower since breast milk tends to protect the intestinal track. (See this link for more details).
2. The SIDs risk is lowered. Evidently the risk of SIDs is significantly lowered (in fact the risk is cut in half).
3. The bond. Because of the constant skin to skin contact, and the need for your baby to nurse and be close... the bond between mother and baby becomes very strong through breastfeeding. Even though breastfeeding was difficult for me initially (pain wise), I absolutely love breastfeeding Baby P. now! Mentally and emotionally we need this time together several times a day. It helps meet a need for both of us to establish that closeness.
4. Breastfeeding can reduce the chances of Postpartum Depression. When a woman breastfeeds, she often feels relaxed. This is because a chemical called Oxytocin is released in the brain when a mother breastfeeds. Because of this chemical/hormone release, many mothers have a reduced risk of suffering from postpartum depression/anxiety. According to babycenter.com, breastfeeding can also lower stress levels (which are already high with a newborn).
5. Lose baby weight faster. The Oxytocin release, mentioned earlier, also helps your uterus to contract helping it to return to it's normal (pre-baby size). This ultimately helps you lose those extra baby pounds faster. Also this hormone helps to lessen postpartum bleeding. Yes, for those who have not yet experienced it... this postpartum bleeding is so not fun! I'm talking about not only baby in diapers, but you. ICK! #returntodiapersformommy
6. Risk of certain cancers are lowered. Many studies have shown that women who breastfeed are less likely to suffer from breast and ovarian cancer. These risks continue to lower the longer you breastfeed. Also there have been some new studies that show that the risk of Alzheimers is also lowered. (See this link for more information).
What to Expect
Yes, breastfeeding is very natural. But it is hard! There are some things that seem to come naturally with breastfeeding (like the emotional bond), but knowing how to latch properly or the various positions is not one of them.
1. Push through the pain.
When I pushed my baby girl out and she was delivered, the midwife immediately placed her on my chest. To my amazement, she started pulling herself to my breast and latched on right away! But even though this moment was beautiful and amazing, I had no clue how bad nursing would hurt till we started. I also did not know, that the only way to get past it is to just push through the pain. Yes there could be many reasons it hurts other than that it's normal. Some baby's have lip or tongue ties which can cause pain, have thrush, or not latching properly. Talk to your hospital's nursing consultant to make sure of these things. But for me, it was just that I was not used to nursing, and my nipples just had to get accustomed to it. Thankfully, I was part of a few breastfeeding support groups on facebook and this helped me immensely (like Breast is Best or the La Leche League).
2. Lanolin or other creams.
Lanolin was my lifeline throughout this time. I just put it on every time I fed baby girl and it helped with the pain! There are plenty of other creams that can be used, it definitely helps though.
3. Nipple Guard.
Eventually the pain was so bad that I just needed a barrier to help my breast recover. So I bought a nipple guard and used it a few times. It gave me a little bit of a break which helped. I do not always suggest using a nipple guard as it can cause nipple confusion.
4. Mastitis or clogged duct.
Unfortunately clogged ducts are very common in breastfeeding. How do you know if you have a clogged duct? Your breast feels inflamed and hurts to the touch (on the sides). The only way to get rid of a clogged duct though is to keep nursing from that breast. The best way to avoid a clogged duct or mastitis (which is what happens if a clogged duct goes untreated) is to wear loose fitting clothes, no under wire bras, and to make sure to feed from both breasts. Also switching up nursing positions has been known to prevent this from happening as well (to drain all areas of the breast). If you think you have mastitis, you need to go to the doctor as they typically have to prescribe antibiotics. Mastitis symptoms are usually breast pain, redness around the breast and a fever.
Here's a chart of breastfeeding positions: