Why breastfeeding chills your baby out

Breastfeeding has real psychological benefits for your baby, whether you’re starting out getting to grips with it, or in full flow. Child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson explains why

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There’s no doubt that breastfeeding wins first prize when it comes to safeguarding your growing baby’s health and nutrition needs. Research by the World Health Organisation confirms that breastfeeding during the first year helps protect your baby from infections, allergies and other medical conditions. Health reasons aside, your baby loves breastfeeding because it has a number of emotional benefits for him.

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Your baby feels secure

First of all, when you breastfeed milk supply isn’t measured, so a breastfed baby keeps drinking until you think he’s had enough. Supply literally meets demand, so he’s thinking ‘I get as much milk as I want’ and that’s so reassuring for him. He’s also secure because he’s safe and warm. He loves the close mouth-to-skin contact with you while he drinks his milk, and, as you hold him close, he feels loved and nurtured.
While he gazes up, he thinks  ‘I can look at my mum while I eat’. You can stare into his eyes too, which enhances bonding. Add to that the very distinctive familiarity of your breast milk, and you can start to see why this experience is so emotionally satisfying for him.

The bonding experience

Knowing about all these emotions is important for you as a mum, because it means you can make the most of them at every feed. Of course, your baby can’t tell you verbally that he’s experiencing all of this, so you need to work on the assumption that breastfeeding’s a really happy, enjoyable bonding experience for your baby. By doing that, you’re in the right zone mentally and he’ll relax and trust you as his mum.
You can also watch for signs, like your baby being relaxed and looking up at you. Remember that your baby senses any tension you might have and, as a reaction, becomes tense himself, which in turn can slow down the feeding process.
So, if right now you’re feeing tired all the time and find breastfeeding is just a further strain, don’t give up straightaway – it’s a challenge faced by many mums who breastfeed, especially in the first year. To reduce the pressure on you, explain to your partner that you’re over-tired, and try expressing milk so he can also enjoy the experience.

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Try this…  

If you find that one feed takes so long that it runs into the next, try and make sure your baby stays awake during feeding and doesn’t have sporadic naps. You can also try setting a fixed time for each feed, say 30 minutes, and stop after that time.

Read our essential guide to breastfeeding

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