Deciding to Breastfeed
Without question, breastfeeding is best for baby. Breast milk is one of nature's most perfectly designed foods. It contains all the right nutrients in the correct amounts to foster baby's brain development and physical growth for about the first six months of his life. Breast milk is tailored to meet your baby's needs, and its nutrient composition evolves to accommodate his growth.
Several health organizations, including the American Dietetic Association and the AAP, recommend nursing a baby for at least a year (longer if desired). The AAP encourages Mom to breastfeed exclusively until baby reaches six months of age. You may think these are lofty breastfeeding goals that most mothers are unlikely to achieve. But please don't be put off. Any amount of breastfeeding is better than none. Even a few months of nursing while on maternity leave counts toward your baby's good health. That may come as a happy surprise to women who are planning to switch over to infant formula once they return to work. Working does not have to interfere with breastfeeding, however. Many women nurse their children in the morning and at night and pump their milk to be fed to baby from a bottle when they are not around. That way, baby reaps the benefits of breast milk while being cared for by a sitter.
- Inspires maternal confidence. It's wonderful to see how baby thrives from the milk Mom's body produces. It's one of the greatest miracles of life.
- Is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for Mom and baby to bond. Your infant can snuggle up close to you while receiving the nurturing he needs in the way of food and physical contact.
- Is a money-saver. You may need to eat some additional food to keep up your milk production, but food costs don't come close to the price of infant formula, which the AAP puts at upwards of $1,000 for the first year.
- Is convenient and saves time. Your baby's food supply is always with Mom. There's no shopping for and preparing formula and no water, bottles, and nipples to clean every day, either.
- Promotes better digestion and quicker maturation of the intestinal tract. Breast milk is easier for baby to digest than infant formula. It provides substances that ensure that an infant's body properly breaks down the protein and fat in breast milk.
- Helps Mom's uterus get back in shape faster, protects against breast cancer, and keeps blood pressure in check. As baby sucks on the breast, the hormone oxytocin makes its way into Mom's bloodstream. Oxytocin prompts the uterus to shrink to its regular size, and more. Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that nursing promotes blood pressure control, and they credit oxytocin for inducing calm. According to the American Medical Association (AMA), nursing a baby for at least three months reduces your chance of developing breast cancer later in life.
- Lowers the rates of allergy and asthma, diabetes, digestive tract infection, and respiratory and ear infections in babies. That's not to say that nursing guarantees immunity. Many other factors contribute to your child's susceptibility and contact with germs, including siblings, day care, and pacifiers, which can convey germs by coming in contact with unclean surfaces and hands.
- May reduce your baby's chances for cardiovascular disease in adulthood. At least one study, published in the Archives of Diseases in Childhood, found that babies who were exclusively breastfed for at least ten days had fewer of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease some fifty-plus years after birth.
- May foster weight control later in life. German researchers have found that five- and six-year-olds who were nursed the longest as babies before beginning formula or food were far less likely to be overweight.
- Enhances baby's brain function and fosters peak eyesight. Breast milk supplies two fats, AA and DHA, found lacking in cow's milk. AA and DHA are associated with improved cognitive powers and well-developed vision. The longer you breastfeed, the greater the effects on your child's mental acumen, motor abilities, and vision. Mom's diet can influence the amount of AA and DHA available to baby's brain by way of breast milk.
- Promotes softer, sweeter-smelling stools than those of formula-fed infants.
- Reduces health care costs. A study done by the University of Arizona Department of Pediatrics found that exclusively breastfed babies had a lower incidence of ear infections, respiratory infections such as colds, and intestinal infections. That meant fewer doctor's visits, hospitalizations, and costly prescriptions than for formula-fed children.
- Helps lower leukemia risk in children. A Journal of the National Cancer Institute report found that breastfed infants might have a lower risk of developing some forms of childhood leukemia than their bottle-fed counterparts. The longer children nursed, the greater the protection.
More on: Feeding and Nutrition
Copyright © 2002 by Elizabeth M. Ward. Excerpted from Healthy Foods, Healthy Kids with permission of its publisher, Adams Media Corporation.
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