Breastfeeding is important for many reasons.
Leading health organisations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for at least one year thereafter.
The current low breastfeeding rates in the US are associated with $3 billion for medical costs, $1.3 billion for non-medical costs, $14.2 billion for premature death costs, and an excess of 3,340 premature maternal and child deaths.
The importance of breastfeeding for these reasons aside, what does breastfeeding actually mean for a baby? What might babies say about breastfeeding if they could communicate that to us?
Here are 6 things they might say about breastfeeding if they could.
#1: I Know What You Had For Dinner Mum
Different flavours pass through breastmilk. Each time your baby feeds at the breast she gets to experience different tastes depending on what you have eaten recently.
This exposure to different flavours has the potential to help breastfed babies turn into less picky eaters. Babies who are breastfed over an extended time are more likely to eat fruit and vegetables when they are older.
Hence, it’s true that your baby may be able to detect what you’ve eaten through your breastmilk and her tastes may be influenced by this exposure.
#2: Oh, That Helps Me To Go To Sleep So Peacefully
Many mothers find that breastfeeding helps their baby drift off to sleep. This is not surprising given that breastmilk contains a hormone called cholecystokinin, which induces sleepiness in both baby and mother.
Also, breastfeeding, and the skin-to-skin contact associated with it, increases oxytocin levels in both baby and mother. Oxytocin is a hormone which provides mother and baby with a natural sedative and has overall ‘feel-good’ effects.
So, when you see your baby’s eyes begin to close when breastfeeding, revel in the fact that you’re helping your baby to go off to sleep peacefully.
#3: Mmmmm, Yummo
The taste of breastmilk varies from mother to mother, depending on various factors such as how full her breast is and what they’ve consumed.
However, those who’ve tasted breastmilk and are old enough to communicate what it tastes like indicate that it tastes sweet.
In fact, research about toddlers’ experiences of breastfeeding indicate that some describe breastfeeding as “As good as chocolate” and “Better than ice cream.”
Hence, your baby may just be thinking about how yummy your breastmilk is as he drinks it.
#4: That Makes Me Feel So Much Better
Research has indicated that breastfeeding helps to reduce pain in babies undergoing a single painful procedure.
For babies who may be experiencing pain (eg due to an infection or an upset tummy), many mothers find that breastfeeding can help provide them with relief.
Breastfeeding may indeed help make your baby feel so much better.
#5: That Hit The Spot
For hungry or thirsty babies, breastfeeding can provide them with food/drink to relieve their hunger or thirst.
It can be very satisfying breastfeeding a very hungry baby and watching them relax as they breastfeed and fill their belly with your milk.
#6: It Helps Me Make Sense Of The World
While in utero, babies are tightly cocooned in a warm, dark, comforting place. They have a constant food source (and so don’t experience hunger pangs) and a constant temperature.
Then, suddenly, when born into a world completely unlike being in utero, can come as a big surprise. Unable to fend for themselves at all, babies are completely reliant on us for every single need. Hence, a gentle and gradual adjustment in the form of a fourth trimester is important for babies.
Fortunately, breastfeeding can help babies make sense of the world. It provides them with nourishment, protection, comfort, warmth, closeness and familiarity.
So, when you next breastfeed your baby, think about what your baby might be saying about it!