Breastfeeding is the natural nutritional source for infants less than one year of age. Most healthcare professionals recommend breastfeeding for your baby’s first year (including the American Academy of Pediatricians and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Associates and Practitioners). Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for the first six months of life. It contains appropriate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and provides digestive enzymes, minerals, vitamins, and hormones that infants require. Breast milk also contains antibodies from the mother that can help the baby resist infections. Experts agree that breastfeeding your baby for any length of time, regardless of how short, is of benefit to you and your baby.
You can provide your baby with breast milk by either breastfeeding or by feeding your baby breast milk from a bottle.
Breastfeeding your baby (directly from the breast):
- Can only be done by you
- Can be done exclusively or can be supplemented with bottle feedings
- Involves you making a major commitment
Feeding your baby breast milk (which has been expressed):
- Can be given with a bottle (by you or others)
- Requires regular pumping of milk from your breasts
- Requires appropriate handling and storage of milk
- Requires appropriate preparation of bottles and nipples
Most healthcare professionals advise using only one method (breastfeeding or feeding breast milk by bottle) for at least the first two months of life. This recommendation is based on the possibility of nipple confusion, which can cause sucking and feeding problems for infants who are switched between breastfeeding and bottle-feeding. After two months of age, most babies adapt to bottle nipples easily.
Breastfeeding is a natural function but is not necessarily a natural instinct for mothers. Most mothers need education during pregnancy to make informed choices about how and what to feed their babies. Mothers also need support, encouragement, and assistance after birth to establish, maintain, and enjoy feeding and caring for their babies.
Advantages Of Breastfeeding
Research indicates that breastfed babies may have less frequent:
- Ear infections
- Stomach or intestinal infections
- Digestive problems, such as constipation or diarrhea
- Skin diseases (infantile eczema)
- Allergy problems (infantile allergies)
In addition, research indicates that breastfed babies may have less risk of becoming overweight, developing high blood pressure, and developing tooth decay.
Moms who breastfeed their babies may enjoy:
- No bottle cleaning
- No formula preparation
- Lower cost
- Easier weight loss
- Enhancement of the unique bond between mother and child
Moms who breastfeed their babies should:
- Understand that ANY medications you take may enter the breast milk and affect your baby (check with your physician or lactation consultant about which are safe)
- Maintain adequate nutrition
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, every day
- Get plenty of rest
- Take good care of her nipples and breasts
- Relax and enjoy the experience
Disadvantages of Breastfeeding
Moms who breastfeed may experience:
- Nipple soreness
- Breast engorgement
- Leaking breasts
- Let-down reflex (other than during breastfeeding)
- Inadequate milk supply
- Difficulty knowing how much milk the baby is drinking
Moms who breastfeed their babies may feel:
- Confused by lack of experience or support
- Afraid or ashamed to ask for help for such a “natural” activity
- Overwhelmed by the time commitment
- Exhausted by the frequent feedings (every 2 to 3 hours, day and night)
- Socially isolated from other relationships and activities
- Frightened by conflicting emotions of enjoyment and resentment
Note: Cow’s milk by itself is not an adequate source of complete nutrition for infants. Commercially prepared formulas for bottle-feeding are excellent sources of nutrition for babies that do not breastfeed.
Many situations or circumstances can change your plans to breastfeed. How and what your baby eats may ultimately depend on the infant’s physical condition and your health after birth.
Some babies are unable to adequately breast feed due to:
- Premature birth
- Small size
- Weak physical condition
- Difficulty sucking
- Birth defects of the mouth (cleft lip or cleft palate)
- Digestive problems (breast milk jaundice, galactosemia)
Some mothers are unable to breastfeed because of:
- Breast infection or breast abscess
- Breast cancer or other cancer
- Previous surgery or radiation treatment
- Inadequate milk supply (uncommon)
Some mothers are advised NOT to breastfeed due to health problems such as:
- Serious illnesses (heart disease or cancer, for example)
- Active, untreated tuberculosis
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection or AIDS
- Active herpes lesions on the breast
- Severe malnutrition
- Hepatitis infection
Questions That May Be Helpful For Mothers To Ask
- Why do I want to (or not want to) breastfeed my child?
- What do I expect breastfeeding to be like?
- Where do I turn for support, assistance, and answers?
- How will I feel if I am unable to breastfeed my child?
- How will I feel if my child is unable to breastfeed?
- What if I change my mind about breastfeeding after my baby is born?
- What changes will I have to make to get plenty of rest while nursing?
- How will breastfeeding my baby affect my other relationships (such as with my husband/partner)?
- How will I cope with my child’s dependence on me for food?
- How will I cope with the physical discomforts of breastfeeding?
- How long should I breastfeed my child?
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