Barely a few days after my daughter was born, I went for a short walk with her and a woman came up to us and said, “Oh, what a cute baby!” So far, so good. Babies are cute. “Do you breastfeed her?” was the lady’s follow-up.
Breastfeeding, as you know if you have had a baby, is a topic many people are very nosey about. We’ve got the “breastfeeding mafia” of mothers who think every other mom should also nurse, and the crowd that thinks breastfeeding in public is obscene. Whatever you do, you can’t win.
Breastfeeding is a Personal Choice
So, why should you breastfeed? I am obviously not here to tell you what to do. You don’t have to breastfeed. Infant feeding methods (breastfeeding vs. formula feeding) remain a private choice that has nothing to do with anyone outside your immediate family, and your baby will be fine if you bottle feed – because you have to or because you want to – as well.
The Many Benefits of Breastfeeding Your Baby
Having said that, there are many benefits of breastfeeding. The World Health Organization (WHO) and many national healthcare professionals’ associations all recommend new mothers breastfeed their infants. The WHO and the Surgeon General of the United States says it is optimal for mothers to nurse their babies for six months exclusively (no other foods, that goes for water too), and for two years in total.
What are those benefits?
1.Your breast milk is unique designed to meet your baby’s exact nutritional needs at each stage, and it will change in its mix of nutrients as your baby grows older. Unless you have specific milk supply issues, there will always be enough milk to feed your baby, right when you need it. And of course, this hassle-free method of feeding your baby doesn’t require you to heat up bottles or sterilize them.
2.Breastfeeding a free way to nourish your infant. You don’t have to buy formula, bottles, or any special equipment to feed your baby. Since babies are expensive anyway, why not cut down on the costs and nurse your newborn exclusively for the first six months of his or her life?
3. Breastfeeding offers your baby antibodies against many diseases. The benefits of this outlast the breastfeeding stage! The antibodies in your breast milk strengthen your baby’s developing immune system and protects from disease. Studies have shown that nursing your baby lessens the chance of ear infections, meningitis, stomach bugs, and respiratory illnesses.
Breastfeeding can also help prevent allergies by forming a protective layer in the intestines. Although manufacturers of formula try to mimic the helpful benefits of breast milk, they can never come close to replicating these essential antibodies in breast milk. Breast milk contains at least 100 ingredients that cannot be found in store-bought formula. The complexity of human breast milk makes it hard to artificially replicate.
Formula-feeding moms may want to reject the theory that breastfed babies are generally healthier than bottle-fed infants, but you can’t ignore statistics. The death rates of infants in Third World countries (non-western, undeveloped countries) are lower in babies who are breastfed.
4. Breastfeeding may prevent childhood obesity. The composition of artificial infant formula means that formula-fed babies can have a higher risk of becoming obese later in life. There is less insulin in breast milk compared to formula, and formula-fed babies grown more quickly in the early months. Some see this as a benefit, but it may have implications for the future.
5. Various studies indicate that breastfed babies have a higher IQ later in life. The benefit is even more obvious in babies who were born prematurely. Research has also shown that breastfed children often earn higher grades in school. Most of the intellectual differences among breastfed babies and formula-fed infants is often attributed to the increased interaction and bonding between mom and baby. However, there is also new evidence that certain nutrients in breast milk (not found in formula) that actually enhances the baby’s brain growth and development.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Moms
Breastfeeding also offers plenty of benefits for mothers, including economic benefits, convenience, and better bonding between mom and baby.
When a mother breastfeeds, her body releases oxytocin, a hormone that helps the uterus contract after she gives birth, and it lessens postpartum bleeding. This hormone also plays a role in your mood, and for that reason studies (like one meta-analysis of 9,000 studies by the National Institutes of Health) say that breastfeeding can lessen the chance of postpartum depression.
The other hormones released during breastfeeding also help strengthen the bond between mother and baby. A nursing mother has an easier time feeling connected to her child. Breastfeeding is a very personal act that can make you love your newborn even more. The skin-to-skin contact also helps baby feel more at ease in his or her new world.
Weight loss after pregnancy may also be easier if you nurse, since nursing burns extra calories. In addition, mothers who breastfed their babies have a lower chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer later in life.
Breastfeeding is also a natural contraceptive. Although it’s not always a reliable natural form of birth control, exclusive breastfeeding produces hormones that suppress your ovulation. This delays the return of your period and prevents you from getting pregnant.
Breastfeeding isn’t Always Easy
Although breastfeeding is definitely the best way to feed your newborn, for the health benefits for both mom and baby, it’s not always easy. It can be painful and downright frustrating for many moms. A woman’s nipples can get sore and cracked. You may have painful engorgement from very full breast. Your baby may have difficulty latching on, and you may have problems with your milk supply. Despite all the difficulties of breastfeeding, it’s definitely worth a try.
But like I’ve mentioned, not all mothers can breastfeed. A mom might have a health condition that makes breastfeeding unrealistic, or she may take medication that can be passed through her breast milk to her child.
And some mothers may not want to breastfeed at all for whatever reason. The decision to breastfeed is a personal one.
Why I Choose to Breastfeed my Babies
For me, breastfeeding was simply the easy thing to do. I breastfed my babies for 18 months and over two years respectively, and besides the medical benefits I discussed above, there are also many practical reasons I loved breastfeeding. I never had to take baby bottles with me, could comfort my babies easily through nursing, and never had to get out of bed to feed my babies at night.
Special Thanks to My Guest Blogger.
Olivia is a mom of two, who blogs about fertility and conceiving, pregnancy, and parenting. With her free ovulation calendar , those who are hoping for a baby can pinpoint their most fertile days.