Baby superfood: The benefits of breast milk

As adults, we’re always on a quest to find the next superfood. For babies, that superfood is breast milk.

And although breastfeeding is natural, that doesn’t always mean that it’s natural to figure out. Many moms have lots of questions: How long should you breastfeed? Is my baby getting enough milk? Why is my baby feeding all the time?

Sarah Musselman, RN, a lactation specialist at OSF HealthCare, answered these questions and shared the many benefits of breast milk.

What’s in breast milk?

“Human breast milk contains everything that a baby needs to grow and develop,” Sarah said.

Breast milk is full of essential nutrients for your baby like proteins, fats and vitamins. These perfectly nourish their body to hit their growth and development milestones.

Because a baby’s immune system is not fully developed, a mom’s body creates antibodies. These flow from the breast milk to the baby’s body, helping to build up their natural immunities.

However, breastfeeding cannot replace vaccines. Over the centuries, scientists and doctors developed vaccinations to safely give a baby to help keep deadly diseases from spreading.

Breast milk can even help babies later in life by decreasing their likelihood of experiencing obesity, diabetes and asthma.

How much to feed your baby

Breast milk changes to meet a baby’s developmental and physical milestones.

Even before your baby is born, your body will start making a yellowish milk called colostrum during the second trimester.

“We kind of confuse moms by calling it colostrum, but it is milk,” Sarah said.

When a baby is first born, their stomach is about the size of a marble. A mom usually makes a tiny quantity of milk to feed a tiny baby tummy. It usually takes mom’s milk about two to four days to come in after delivery of the baby and placenta.

As the baby grows, so does their tummy. They’ll start to drink more milk, which will tell your body to make a bigger volume of milk.

Know how much a breastfed baby eats throughout the day:

  • First three months: Seven to twelve times per 24 hours
  • Three to six months: Six to eight times per 24 hours
  • Six months to one year: About four to six times per 24 hours. Babies start to eat solid foods around six months.

How long should I breastfeed my baby each time?

Babies will typically nurse about 10-15 minutes on each breast, but don’t worry if it’s more or less than that.

“I’ve heard a lot of moms worry about how long a baby breastfeeds on each side, but it’s typical for one breast to make more than the other,” Sarah said.

A baby will decide how long you should breastfeed each time. Just like adults, babies are hungry for different amounts of food at different times of the day.

“As adults, sometimes we just want a snack, sometimes we want a full buffet’s worth of food and sometimes we just want a drink. A baby is the same way,” Sarah said.

Many moms fear their breast milk isn’t filling baby well enough. But, Sarah says, your infant is getting filled well. Breastfeeding is a supply and demand situation. The more you’re breastfeeding and pumping, the more milk your body will produce. With time, you’ll really get to know your baby and when they’re hungry or full.

“When you’re breastfeeding, there’s no way to measure how much milk comes out,” Sarah said.

Your baby will take as much they want to eat, and that will signal your body to make more milk.

If your body isn’t producing enough or your baby is showing signs of hunger – such as being lethargic or losing too much weight after the first week – talk to the pediatrician or a lactation consultant. You may not be getting a good latch or need some kind of intervention.

Newborn breastfeeding schedule

It’s typical for newborns to eat about every hour and a half to three hours. If your baby is sleeping through a feeding, it’s OK to wake them up to feed them.

Moms and babies can decide how long to breastfeed, however The Academy of American Pediatrics suggests breastfeeding until your baby turns 2 years old.

When your baby starts to breastfeed less or if you’ve decided to wean your baby, your body will slowly start to make less milk. This lack of demand will cause your breast milk to dry up and eventually will make your body stop producing breast milk.

“The older your baby gets, they naturally become less interested in breastfeeding, either because they’re busy or get easily distracted or because they’re starting on solid foods,” Sarah said.

Cluster feeding

After a while, a mom will get to know what is typical for her breastfeeding baby. But babies are going to sometimes do their own thing.

“Many babies get in the habit of cluster feeding, which is when babies feed in close intervals many times a day,” Sarah said.

There can be many explanations. Baby could be going through a growth spurt or baby could just be using mom’s breast as a comfort.

How much milk should I be pumping?

Moms may choose to exclusively do breast pumping or set up a breastfeeding and pumping schedule. You don’t have to pump if you breastfeed, unless you feel you need to – for example, if your breasts are engorged or you’re ready to introduce a relief bottle for someone else to feed.

Pump as much as your baby needs, but don’t pump until you’re empty, because you’ll just fill up again.

There are certain breastmilk storage guidelines.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, freshly expressed or pumped milk can be stored at room temperature for up to 4 hours, in the refrigerator for up to 4 days or in the freezer for up to 12 months.

“Store your pumped breast milk in the amount that your baby will eat. That way you’re not defrosting too much at once or a full bag of one and a half bag of another,” Sarah said.

When does breastfeeding become easy?

“It takes a new mom about two to six weeks to get the hang of breastfeeding,” Sarah said.

If exclusively breastfeeding isn’t working, it’s perfectly safe to breastfeed and bottle feed at the same time. In fact, you can even mix breast milk and formula together in the same bottle, according to Sarah.

If you need extra support, ask your pediatrician, friends, family or coworkers for help selecting a qualified lactation consultant.

Last Updated: April 18, 2023

Follow Us on Social Media

About Author: Katie Faley

Katie Faley is a Writing Coordinator for OSF HealthCare. She graduated from Illinois State University with a degree in English Studies. Before joining OSF HealthCare in 2021, she worked in magazine editing, digital marketing and freelance writing.
Katie is often found listening to ‘60s folk music, deciding on a new skill to learn, losing track of time in a library or spending time with her family and friends.

View all posts by

Tags: , ,

Categories: Birth & Maternity