Breast milk is Paleo! It’s a whole food that provides perfectly balanced nutrition for your baby. Nature spent many millions of years making it this way to optimize survival rates for human newbies in the precarious time of life’s first few years. Based on the practices of contemporary hunter-gatherer groups and our closest relatives in the animal kingdom, it’s estimated that Paleolithic moms nursed for two to four years, not two to four months or so like we do. Breastfeeding is also perfect for mom – the perfect portable, free, baby food that in addition to benefiting baby’s health, profits her own.
Although the benefits of breastfeeding are acknowledged by medical authorities without reproach, and exclusive breastfeeding for baby’s first six months without added water or food is recommended by major child welfare institutions, the reality is that breastfeeding is very challenging and difficult to sustain in modern society. By six months postpartum, a majority of moms are supplementing with formula or have abandoned breastfeeding altogether. This article discusses the benefits of breastfeeding as well as the challenges moms face meeting breastfeeding goals and what can be done to increase the odds of nursing successfully. Part 2 of this article will focus on the Paleo diet and its benefits for breastfeeding moms and babies, and Part 3 will discuss which formulas are best for your Paleo newbie.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breast milk is easily digested and absorbed by baby’s delicate gut and contains antibodies that help fight common infections including those that effect the ear, respiratory system and gastrointestinal tract. Breast milk is 54% fat, 39% carbohydrate, and 7% protein and provides just the right mix of vitamins, minerals, enzymes, fiber, probiotics and cholesterol. In addition to higher IQ scores, breastfeeding is linked to lower rates of childhood obesity, asthma, Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes, leukemia, atopic dermatitis and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Breastfeeding is also very beneficial for mom. It facilitates bonding, burns extra calories, and releases the hormone oxytocin, which decreases the stress hormone cortisol and facilitates relaxation, trust and bonding. Oxytocin also helps the uterus to contract and return to pre-pregnancy size. Breastfeeding moms are at less risk for Type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancers and postpartum depression. And let’s not forget, breastfeeding moms are spared the financial expense of formula!
Breastfeeding is recognized as so important for baby and mommy that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nation Children’s Fund (UNICEF) all recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. After 6 months, the AAP and ACOG recommend extending breastfeeding along with the introduction of food to 1 year and beyond for as long as mother and baby want to. WHO and UNICEF recommend extending breastfeeding in conjunction with food for 2 years and beyond. Why then, with all of the known benefits and official support from major institutions, are only 13% of moms still exclusively breastfeeding at 6 months?
Breastfeeding is Challenging
A recent study out of UC Davis Medical Center followed 532 first-time moms for two months after giving birth who intended to breastfeed their babies and found that 92% of them had problems and concerns with nursing in the first week postpartum. Problems included difficulty with latch on, pain during nursing and fear of insufficient milk production. These difficulties were strongly associated with decisions to supplement with formula or abandon breastfeeding altogether. The authors of the study concluded that to help moms meet their breastfeeding goals, more support was needed in the first two weeks postpartum for assistance, reassurance, and problem resolution.
However, even if initial breastfeeding issues are overcome, obstacles abound. Moms work away from their babies in environments that may not be conducive to pumping. Social environments can be unfriendly to nursing moms making feeding on demand difficult or impossible. Nursing and pumping take a lot of time that the pressures of modern life leave little room for. What can a new mom do to beat the odds and meet her breastfeeding goals? She can surround herself with knowledge and support, that’s what! The following are a few things new moms can do to prepare for a successful breastfeeding experience.
- Read all you can in breastfeeding books, on websites and in online forums.
- Attend a support group while pregnant. La Leche League welcomes pregnant women and you can find a group in your area at llli.org.
- Educate your spouse, friends and family members on the benefits of breastfeeding and the possible difficulties and obstacles that might arise. Make sure that everyone knows your plan, including the doctors and nurses at the hospital.
- Make a friendly sign for the baby’s hospital bassinet that says something such as, “I am a breastfed baby. Please do not give me formula or a pacifier. Bring me to my mommy when it’s time to eat.”
- Find a lactation consultant in your area as referred by your doctor or through ilca.org, the International Lactation Consultant Association and have an appointment scheduled sometime during your first week postpartum. You can always cancel it if things are going well.
Of course, good nutrition is important for mommy’s and baby’s health during breastfeeding so stay tuned for Part 2, The Benefits of the Paleo Diet for Breastfeeding Moms and Babies. In the eventuality that nursing fails or just isn’t for you for whatever reason, Part 3, Is Formula Feeding Paleo? reveals which formulas best fit in with Paleo principles and are best for your baby.