By Diane Allison, R.N., Certified Lactation Consultant at Veterans Memorial Hospital
Choosing whether to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is only one of the many decisions expectant parents will make. It takes time to make such an important decision because it will not only affect your baby’s life but also the lives of the entire household. Breastfeeding is a commitment that both parents are involved in as it takes support from the partner to be successful.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) joins other organizations such as the American Medical Association (AMA), the American Dietetic Association (ADA), and the World Health Organization (WHO) in recommending breastfeeding as the best for babies. Breastfeeding helps defend against infections, prevent allergies, and protect against a number of chronic conditions.
The AAP recommends that babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months. Beyond that, the AAP encourages breastfeeding until at least 12 months of age, and longer if both the mother and baby are willing.
Although experts believe breast milk is the best nutritional choice for infants, breastfeeding may not be possible for all women. For many women, the decision to breastfeed or formula feed is based on their comfort level, lifestyle, and specific medical considerations that they might have. The decision to breastfeed or formula feed your baby is a very personal one. But there are some points you may want to consider as you decide which is best for you and your new addition.
Nursing is a wonderful experience for both mother and baby. It provides ideal nourishment and a special bonding experience that many nursing mothers cherish.
Here are some of the many benefits of breastfeeding:
Infection-fighting antibodies passed from a nursing mother to her baby can help lower the occurrence of many conditions, including:
- ear infections
- respiratory infections
Other factors help to protect a breastfed baby from infection by contributing to the infant’s immune system by increasing the barriers to infection and decreasing the growth of organisms like bacteria and viruses.
Breastfeeding is particularly beneficial for premature babies and also may protect children against:
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
As a group, breastfed babies have fewer infections and hospitalizations than formula-fed infants
Nutrition and ease of digestion:
Breast milk is often described as the “perfect food” for babies because of its high nutritional value and the fact that it is so easily digested by a newborn’s immature system. Because breast milk is more easily digested breastfed babies have fewer incidences of diarrhea or constipation.
Breast milk also naturally contains many of the vitamins and minerals that a newborn requires. A healthy mother does not need any additional vitamins or nutritional supplements, with the exception of vitamin D. Breast milk does contain some vitamin D, and vitamin D is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However, sun exposure increases the risk of skin damage, so parents are advised to minimize exposure. As a result, the AAP recommends that all breastfed babies begin receiving vitamin D supplements during the first 2 months and continuing until the infant consumes enough vitamin D-fortified formula or milk (after 1 year of age).
Breast milk doesn’t cost a cent, while the cost of formula quickly adds up. And because of the immunities and antibodies passed onto them through their mothers’ breast milk, breastfed infants are sick less often than infants who receive formula. That may mean fewer trips to the doctor’s office and fewer prescriptions and medications. Likewise, women who breastfeed are less likely to have to take time off from work to care for their sick baby.
A nursing mother will usually need 500 extra calories per day, which means that she should eat a wide variety of well-balanced foods. This introduces breastfed babies to different tastes through their mother’ breast milk, which has different flavors depending on what their mothers’ have eaten. By tasting the foods of their “culture,” breastfed infants more easily accept solid foods.
Breast feeding is convenient. No need to go to the store for formula, breast milk is always fresh and available. And when women breastfeed, there’s no need to warm up bottles in the middle of the night, breast milk is always the right temperature. It’s also easy for breastfeeding mother’s to be active – and go out and about – with their babies and know that they’ll have food available for whenever their baby is hungry.
Benefits to Mother and Baby:
Some studies have found that breastfeeding may help protect a child from obesity. When a breastfed baby feels that they have had enough to eat they come away from the breast, they know when to stop eating.
Some studies also suggest that children who were exclusively breastfed have slightly higher intelligence scores than children who were formula fed. Many nursing mothers really enjoy the experience of bonding so closely with their babies and skin to skin contact can enhance the emotional connection between a mother and her infant.
The ability to nourish a baby totally can also help a new mother feel confident in her ability to care for her baby. Breastfeeding also burns calories and helps shrink the uterus, so nursing moms may be able to return to their pre-pregnancy shape and weight quicker. In addition, studies show that breastfeeding helps lower the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and also may help decrease the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer.
Although it is the best feeding choice for babies and mother, breastfeeding does come with some concerns that new mothers may share. Where it is easy from the get-go for some, it can be challenging for others. Sometimes, both mother and baby need plenty of patience and persistence to get used to the routine of breastfeeding and sometimes mothers decide it is not the best way to feed their baby.
If you choose breastfeeding you will need support from your partner, your family and your friends. Contact your healthcare professional, a lactation consultant or lactation educator and let them help you achieve your goal to give your new baby the very best nutrition possible…. BREASTMILK.
For more information, please contact Jayne McCormick, RN, Maternity Services Supervisor at Veterans Memorial Hospital at 568-3411.