Breast-feeding offers many advantages to both babies and mothers. You should know the benefits of breast-feeding before you decide about how to feed your baby.
How does my baby benefit from breast-feeding?
- A mother's breast milk is the perfect food for babies.
Human milk is the perfect food to help your baby's body and brain grow and develop. No formula can be made exactly the same as human milk. There are thousands of ingredients in human milk, and not all of them have been identified.
Babies can digest breast milk easily. A diet of breast milk produces loose bowel movements that a baby can easily pass. Constipation is rare in breast-fed infants.
The only food your baby needs for about 6 months is breast milk. After you start feeding your baby solid foods, it is recommended that you continue breast-feeding until your child is a year old or even older.
- Breast-feeding protects your baby from sickness.
Breast-feeding helps protect your baby from illnesses including diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia, and serious illnesses. Breast-feeding improves your baby's chances of staying healthy.
- Nursing is a valuable source of security and comfort for your baby.
You and your baby give comfort to each other. Your baby regularly needs your breast milk and physical closeness, and your full breasts regularly need to be drained. Breast-feeding develops an intimate relationship that can deepen the bond between you and your baby.
- Breast-fed babies may have fewer allergies.
Your baby may be less likely to have skin problems and asthma than babies who are fed formula.
- Breast-feeding may reduce the chance of your child becoming overweight.
Breast-feeding, especially for longer than 6 months, reduces the chance that your child will be overweight later in life.
How do I benefit from breast-feeding?
- Breast-feeding helps your uterus shrink after delivery.
Nursing causes your body to release a hormone called oxytocin. This hormone helps your uterus return to its normal size after delivery.
- Breast-feeding can help you lose weight.
Breast-feeding uses up calories and usually helps mothers lose some of the extra weight they gained during pregnancy.
- Breast-feeding is very convenient.
No matter where you are, the perfect food is ready for your baby. It is at the right temperature and in the correct amount. You can take your baby with you anywhere, knowing your milk will be ready for him whenever he is hungry.
- Breast-feeding can work as birth control during the first 6 months after delivery.
Breast-feeding works as a method of birth control during the first few months after delivery. Breast-feeding provides protection against pregnancy during the first 6 months after you give birth if:
- you are feeding your baby nothing but breast milk
- the baby feeds at least every 4 hours in the day and every 6 hours at night AND
- your menstrual periods have NOT returned.
Other methods of birth control should be used if:
- you have started having menstrual periods again
- you have added formula supplements or solid food to your baby's diet OR
- more than 6 months have passed since the birth.
There is a small risk that you will become pregnant while you are breast-feeding. If you are worried about it, use another form of birth control as well.
- Breast-feeding offers women some protection against disease.
Women who breast-feed are less likely to get breast cancer or ovarian cancer and may be less likely to suffer broken hips in older life.
- You can switch to bottle-feeding if you decide you want to stop breast-feeding, but the opposite may not be true.
You can try breast-feeding and then switch to bottles of formula if it doesn’t work out. On the other hand, after starting bottle-feeding, you usually cannot switch to breast-feeding weeks later.
- Breast-feeding can save you money.
It costs more to buy formula than for you to eat the extra calories you need to make breast milk. Some women choose to pay for expert help to solve a breast-feeding problem. Others may need to rent or buy a breast pump if they go back to school or work. Feeding a baby costs money. You might as well spend your dollars giving your baby the very best nutrition.
Carefully consider the advantages of breast-feeding for you and your baby and think about giving breast-feeding a try. Remember, the success of breast-feeding is best measured by how much you and your baby enjoy nursing, not only by the amount of milk you produce or the length of time you breast-feed.
Written by Marianne Neifert, MD, and the clinical staff of The Lactation Program, Rose Medical Center, Denver, CO. 303-377-3016.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-01-28
Last reviewed: 2009-11-22
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes
available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical
evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a health care professional.