Making the decision to breastfeed
Knowing the reasons why you want to breastfeed before your baby is born can help you cope with periods of hesitation and discouragement
Health professionals around the world over recommend that babies be fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life. The Canadian Paediatric Society, Dieticians of Canada, and Health Canada all echo this recommendation. Once babies have started eating solid foods, it is recommended that they continue breastfeeding until the age of two years or more.
Women breastfeed for a variety of reasons. Some breastfeed because they like always having milk ready for their baby, while others see it as a way of strengthening the bond they developed with their baby during pregnancy. Still others decide to breastfeed because of the health benefits for the mother and baby.
Listing the reasons why you want to breastfeed will help you make your decision. Ask yourself what’s important for you and your family in light of your values and your situation. And take time to think about your intentions and how you can prepare yourself for the challenges you may face on the way.
Breastfeeding and health
Regardless of your situation, remember to tell your family and healthcare professional about your decision. That way they’ll know what to expect and be able to support you better. Trust yourself—you know best what your baby needs.
Breast milk contains antibodies and other substances that help baby’s immune system fight off certain diseases. The more breast milk a baby gets, the more protection she has—protection that may even continue after she stops breastfeeding.
Breastfed babies are at lower risk of diseases such as diarrhea, ear infections, colds, and bronchiolitis. And when breastfed babies do get these illnesses, they are less severe. Breastfed babies are also at lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome and are better protected against certain chronic diseases such as obesity and diabetes.
Breastfeeding delays the return of menstrual periods. In the short term, women who breastfeed are therefore less likely to develop anemia. Over the long term, women who have breastfed have a lower risk of becoming diabetic or developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Most medications are compatible with breastfeeding. If you are taking medication, discuss it with your healthcare provider before your baby is born.
If you have COVID-19, breastfeeding is still recommended. However, you will need to take certain precautions. COVID-19 is contagious for 10 days. During this period, wear a face covering (preferably a medical mask), while feeding. Always wash your hands before feeding your child.
Anemia: Condition that can lead to severe fatigue, often caused by a lack of iron in the blood.
Antibodies: Substances made by the body to fight off disease. Also called immunoglobulins.
Immune system: Organs and mechanisms that allow the body to fight against infections.
Sudden infant death syndrome: The unexplainable sudden death of an apparently healthy newborn under the age of one.