Breast-Feeding the Baby
Within an hour after birth, the newborn baby usually begins a rooting reflex, which signals hunger. The baby’s sucking triggers the flow of milk from the breast. This is done through receptors in the nipples, which signal the pituitary to produce prolactin, a chemical necessary for milk production. Another chemical, oxytocin, is also produced, which, as we mentioned before, helps increase contractions in the uterus to shrink the uterus to its original size. In the first few days of breast-feeding, the breasts release a fluid called colostrum, which is very important in strengthening the baby’s immune system.
This is one of the reasons that breast-feeding is recommended to new mothers.
There have been many benefits to breast-feeding reported over the years. It has been found to provide antibodies to strengthen an infant’s immune system; strengthen cognitive development; and reduce allergies, asthma, tooth decay, respiratory infections, and diarrhea (Daniels & Adair, 2005; Khadivzadeh & Parsai, 2005). In addition, the body-to-body contact during breast-feeding has been found to decrease stress and improve mood for both mother and child (Groer, 2005).
For some women, however, breast-feeding is not possible. Time constraints and work pressures may also prevent breast-feeding. In poor countries, a child who is bottle-fed is more likely to die than a breast-fed one (Dunham et al., 1992). This is probably due to unsterilized bottles, water, and equipment often being used. For the most part, however, under sanitary conditions bottle feeding is perfectly safe.
Some women who want to breast-feed but who also wish to return to work use a breast pump. This allows a woman to express milk from her breasts that can be given to her child while she is away. Breast milk can be kept in the refrigerator or freezer, but it must be heated prior to feeding. The majority of U. S. states have laws that allow women to breast-feed in public and to express breast milk while at work in certain areas (LaLeche League, 2005).
There have been some heated debates about when a child should be weaned from breast-feeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding (no other fluids or food) for 6 months and then continued breast-feeding for a minimum of 1 year, whereas the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breast-feeding for the first 4 to 6 months of life and continued breast-feeding until at least the age of 2.
Breast-feeding advocates believe that American women wean their children too early. At 6 months of age, only 29% of American women are still breast-feeding their children (Taveras et al., 2003). This is probably due to several factors, but one of the biggest is cultural expectations. The question is: If there were no cultural taboos against breast-feeding, how long would a woman nurse? Research has found that the natural age of weaning is 2x/2 years, with a maximum of 6 to 7 years (Dettwyler & Stuart-Macadam,
1995) . In fact, all other primates breast-feed their infants for years, not months.
Throughout this chapter we have explored many issues related to fertility, infertility, pregnancy, and childbearing. In the next chapter we will begin to look at limiting fertility through contraception and abortion.