Advantages of Breastfeeding
Andrea Hensley is a lactation consultant on staff at Banner Thunderbird Medical Center. Her office can be reached at (602) 865-5920.
Question: As a first-time expecting mother, I’m anxious to learn everything I can about caring for my baby, including the benefits of breastfeeding. Can you explain the advantages of breast milk versus formula?
Answer: Deciding to breastfeed a new baby or use formula is an important decision for expecting parents. The truth is, breastfeeding is far and away the best feeding option for infants. The American Academy of Pediatrics, along with other major medical associations, recommends that infants be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months of life and encourages mothers to continue breastfeeding until at least 12 months of age.
This recommendation is based on the fact that breastfeeding not only provides nutrition to your baby in the short-term, but can also have long-term health benefits.
Human milk provides the nutrients necessary for an infant’s physical and cognitive development. Yet what some expecting mothers may not realize is that their milk also contains disease-fighting antibodies that provide protection from infections and illnesses, such as ear infections, gastrointestinal infections and diarrhea, respiratory infections, and meningitis, among others.
What’s remarkable about the human body is a mother makes specific antibodies to fight infection that the infant or herself have been exposed to within 24 hours. These antibodies are passed to the infant through her breast milk, decreasing the risk of illness in the infant.
Also, children who were given breast milk, as opposed to formula, may have decreased risks of obesity, asthma and allergies, diabetes, and even some childhood cancers as they grow older.
To be sure, breastfeeding takes hard work and dedication due to the 8-14 feedings babies require each day. Should some mothers find it difficult to breastfeed, there are lactation experts, strategies and resources available to help make breastfeeding a productive and special bonding experience between mother and child.
Reviewed July 2010