Benefits of Breastfeeding
There are many benefits of breastfeeding. The one that got my attention is the fact that antibodies can be passed from mother to baby through the breast milk. This means that your baby will probably get sick less often if you breastfeed him. When I read this, I thought, “Yes, let’s give Baby a good, healthy start in life!”
Later, I read books and found out that there were lots of other benefits of breastfeeding. For example, breastfed children are less likely to be obese when they grow up. That’s definitely a good thing. In the last 20 years, studies show that breastfed babies grow up to have higher IQ compared to formula-fed babies. This is most noticeable with premature babies.
With breastfeeding, it is important to be flexible. What works for other moms may not work for you. If you can’t breastfeed, you can express breast milk and feed that to your baby. If you need to go back to work and can’t express milk, then be grateful that you did manage to feed your infant colostrum in the first week of life.
Mothers and babies have co-existed and evolved together since humans first lived. After all these years, I’m sure that we must have gotten it right by now! The milk made by human mothers is probably the best food for human babies. Scroll down to read more:
- Benefits of Breastfeeding: Immunity
- Benefits of Breastfeeding: Jaw Development
- Benefits of Breastfeeding: Convenience
- Benefits of Breastfeeding: Affordability
- Benefits of Breastfeeding: Comfort and Bonding
- Benefits of Breastfeeding: Benefit for Moms
As mentioned above, antibodies can be transferred from the mother to the baby through breast milk. Antibodies are a part of your immune system: they keep you healthy by fighting off bacteria and infections. A grown woman can make antibodies whereas newborns cannot. Thus, the antibodies in the breast milk will help Baby stay healthy until Baby can make his own antibodies (at about one year of age).
In the first 4 or 5 days after the baby is born, the milk from the breast is not white. Instead, it is sticky, yellowish in color, and there’s not very much of it. This special form of early milk is called colostrum. Colostrum contains different amounts of protein, sugars, and fats compared to the breast milk made later. In particular, colostrum has a higher concentration of antibodies. It seems as if nature has purposely designed mothers’ milk so that newborns get a good dose of antibodies when they first enter the world. After all, Baby was in a germ-free environment when he was in your womb.
My friend, Vivi, breastfed her first child for 3 months and her second child for 9 months. She noticed that the first child got sick more often than her second child. “I think it is because I didn’t breastfeed him as long,” she said. “I wish I knew, I would have breastfed him longer.” When her kids were older, she found no difference in their susceptibility to illnesses.
Believe it or not, a baby has to do a lot of work when he breastfeeds. His tongue and lower jaw has to move up and down continuously to help “pump” the milk out. As well, the entire mouth needs to be active in order to maintain a good seal which is needed for suction. This constant movement of the mouth and tongue may lead to healthier jaw and teeth development.
The muscles a baby uses when he sucks from a bottle is different from the muscles used when sucking from the breast. In bottle feeding, the liquid comes easier and faster. Sometimes the food comes out too fast and baby has to push his tongue forward to slow down the flow. This forward motion of the tongue may lead to a condition called tongue thrust. Some dentists feel that bottle feeding leads to tongue thrust which in turn leads to improper teeth and speech development.
Almost all breastfeeding books will list “convenience” as one of the benefits of breastfeeding.
- you don’t need to scrub and sterilize baby bottles;
- you don’t need to buy formula; and
- you don’t need to reconstitute or warm-up breast milk.
Breast milk is the perfect temperature and it’s always ready. Yes, all that is true but…
it’s not all peaches and cream! Breastfeeding is hard at first, so the “convenient” part comes later – after you’ve figured out how to do it and bypassed all the problems. Once you’ve got the hang of it, then yes, breastfeeding is more convenient than bottle feeding. Here’s another thing to think about: women have the breast, so women are the ones who have to get up in the middle of the night to feed Baby. Not so “convenient” when you’re tired and already sleep-deprived. But there’s a solution:
- You can pump milk out of your breast; this is called expressed milk and put it in a baby bottle.
- You can give Baby breast milk and formula. This is called supplementing.
Breastfeeding is cheaper than formula feeding. In fact, breastfeeding is free! You need to eat a little more so that your body has enough energy and nutrients to make breast milk; however, in today’s society, this is usually not a problem. For most women in USA and Canada, the problem is not how much food they get, but what kind of food they get.
In contrast, formulas cost you real money. One large tub of baby formula powder will cost you at least $25. In addition to that, there is the price of the baby bottles, bottle liners, soap, hot water, and energy used to sterilize the bottles.
One study showed that breastfed babies go to the doctors and hospitals less often; this resulted in a lower cost of health care – another reason that makes breastfeeding affordable.
If you are pregnant or have a young child, government programs like WIC will provide food and baby-essentials to low-income families.
Comfort and Bonding
Another benefit of breastfeeding is that it creates a special bond between Mother and Baby. Breastfed babies are held closer to the mother’s body than are bottle-fed babies. And, breastfed babies have skin-to-skin contact with the mother, this does not usually occur with bottle-fed babies.
Breastfeeding is a partnership. Mother has to be willing to feed the baby and Baby has to be willing to suck. If Mother does not feed baby, her breast will become uncomfortable. If baby does not suck, he will be hungry. This co-dependency creates a union among the Mother & Baby pair. Breastfeeding gives the baby nourishment and comfort. Breastfeeding also gives Mother a sense of satisfaction and calmness.
Bottle-fed babies love and are loved too, but since Mom or Dad (anyone, for that matter) can hold the bottle, the relationship between Adult and Baby is not quite the same. As the baby gets older, some parents will prop-up the bottle so Baby can drink by himself and the adult has a free hand to do other work. At this point, the bottle serves to provide food and there is no bonding.
The same is true if you express breast milk and offer it in a bottle – you loose some of that skin-to-skin contact which is so important to newborns. Comfort, bonding, and skin-to-skin contact is so beneficial that some hospitals have implemented kangaroo care. Kangaroo care is a program that allows parents to hold their naked, premature babies close to their hearts to encourage weight gain and better health.
Other Benefits of Breastfeeding
Colostrum, the early milk made during the first few days after birth has a laxative effect on the newborn. This allows Baby to expel (poop) meconium. Meconium is a dark, greenish poop that is inside Baby’s body while he is still in utero. There are other small and/or undefined benefits of breastfeeding that I have not talked about. But one area that deserves attention is the benefits of breastfeeding to the mother.
- read about the benefits of breastfeeding for mother
- read about composition of breast milk, or
- read about why women choose formula feeding.
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