By Katy Maker, Nurse Midwife and Nurse Practitioner
Veterans Memorial Hospital Medical Clinic
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.
“National Breastfeeding Week is an excellent time to think about lots of issues around how we feed our children,” states Katy Maker, Nurse Midwife at Veterans Memorial Hospital and Clinics. “The neat thing about breast milk is that it’s always ready, it’s made specifically for that one child, and there are many ways to involve the whole family.”
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.
“Both Dr. Schwartz and myself are very supportive of breast-feeding. We ensure breast-feeding can be started as early after birth as mother would like, this includes helping mother’s get baby to breast even when they have had a cesarean delivery. Before the baby is born we have a lactation consultant who will do individualized teaching and meet with them to make sure that they are prepared for any challenges and that they have all their questions answered,” explains Maker. “Our lactation consultant works with them independently again after the baby is born and our labor and delivery nurses assist with each breast-feeding episode until the mother and baby go home, making sure mom is confident with her skills and that her partner is also well educated and able to help. Because of this, we do have a track record of many mothers with long-term success with breast-feeding, which makes us all proud in keeping our newborn community healthy.”
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.
“Breastmilk has been defined as the perfect food for each individual baby, but some women choose to pump and feed the breastmilk for a variety of reasons and that that is a perfectly acceptable way to supply breastmilk to the baby if they are more comfortable that way,” adds Maker. “There is some mother’s that do a combination of breast and formula feeding and that is what works for them. It does not have to be a decision between breast-feeding exclusively or not breast-feeding at all.”
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.
For more information, please contact Katy Maker at the Veterans Memorial Hospital Waukon Clinic at 563-568-5530.