While a new mother should not feel pressure to breastfeed or bottle-feed, there are some benefits that many people commonly associate with breastfeeding.
One of the most convincing arguments for breastfeeding is that human breast milk is designed for human babies, just as cow's milk is designed for calves. Even though formula companies work hard to duplicate the composition of breast milk, commercial formulas will never be identical to human breast milk.
As we learn about the nutrients in breast milk, it becomes more obvious that breast milk provides just about everything a baby needs for good growth and development. However, at four to six months, breast-fed babies require supplemental iron and vitamin D, and at six months, fluoride should be provided to your breast-fed or bottle-fed baby if there is an insufficient amount in the local water supply.
Every time you have an illness or receive an immunization, your body develops immunity against that illness. This means some special cells become sensitized to a particular type of virus or bacterium. The next time that particular organism invades your body, your body is prepared to fight it off. If the immunity is strong enough, you may never contract that illness again.
This is the principle behind immunizations for such diseases as mumps, measles, and pertussis (whooping cough). A vaccine contains inactivated bacteria or virus. Your body believes an infection is present, and it develops an immunity against the inactivated virus or bacteria, which also works against the active form.
When you breastfeed your new baby, much of the immunity you have developed passes on to her through the antibodies present in your breast milk. Many studies show that breast-fed babies have fewer and milder illnesses and fewer hospitalizations.
Breastfeeding is no guarantee your infant will never get sick, but it surely lowers the chances. Many mothers note that once they stop breastfeeding, their infants seem to experience more colds, runny noses, and so on. This may be due to loss of the protection the baby received from breast milk.
Benefits for the Mother
Some of the weight you put on during your pregnancy was a special type of high-energy fat. With breastfeeding, you tend to burn this extra fat first. This doesn't mean that by breastfeeding you'll lose all the weight you gained. But it helps. Breast feeding has also been shown to help protect against breast cancer and osteoporosis.
Many mothers feel they develop a certain closeness with their babies when they breastfeed. It comes from more than just holding and feeding the baby. The feeling seems to stem from the knowledge that they are truly the source of nutrition for their growing infants.
Unfortunately, the father may feel left out when the mother breastfeeds because he does not have an opportunity to feed their new baby. You can offset this problem by occasionally expressing breast milk for the father to bottle-feed the baby.
Breastfeeding is much less expensive than bottle-feeding and much more convenient-fewer bottles to sterilize, no formula to prepare, no midnight trips to the kitchen to warm up the baby's meal.
If you have decided you might want to breast feed because of the health benefits, you might still be unsure of how the process works. In the next section, we will show you how to breastfeed.