As more and more research supports the benefits of breast feeding for young infants and babies more doctors and hospitals are recommending that new mothers breast feed their children rather than use formula. Even breast feeding for a short time will give a new child benefits that will be evident for years in the future.
In fact, the research has found that not only are there benefits to children who are breast fed, but there are also risks for children who are bottle fed. For instance, breast milk has factors, also known as antibodies, that help to protect the newborn from bacteria and viruses in the environment. Babies who are not exclusively breast fed for 6 months are more likely to develop a wide range of different infectious diseases including ear infections and respiratory infections. These children also have more hospitalizations and have a 21% higher rate of post-neonatal infant mortality.
There have also been studies that show that infants who are not breast-fed have a higher rate of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in their first year of life. And these same studies show a higher rate of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, lymphoma, leukemia, Hodgkin’s disease, obesity, high cholesterol and asthma later in life. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, who also supports breast-feeding as the best means of nutrition for an infant, more research is needed in these areas.
Doctors do know that babies who are not breast-fed are sick more often and have more doctors visits. And because the use of formula is fed to the infant through bottles and nipples there is an increased chance that the nutrition will be contaminated.
There are several distinct benefits to breastmilk which are separate from the risks of using formula. Researchers know that breastmilk is the most complete form of nutrition which infants can use. Mother’s body is able to accommodate the changes necessary in the nutrition for the baby’s growth and development. There is always the correct amount of fat, sugar, water and protein needed for this stage of development in what the infant finds himself.
As a result of the correct nutrition infants who are breast fed will grow exactly along the curve they are supposed to. They tend to gain less unnecessary weight and are leaner than infants who are fed formula. Researchers have also found that infants who are premature will do better when fed breast milk as compared to those who are fed formula. For this reason neonatologists encourage new mothers whose infants are premature and in the hospital to pump as much milk as possible so that their infants can be fed breast milk.
Interestingly, researchers also found that infants who were fed breast milk will score a slightly higher on IQ tests, especially those infants who were born prematurely.
But the benefits for breast-feeding don’t end with the infants. In fact there are benefits to both mom and the rest of society. Nursing uses up extra calories which makes it easier for mom to lose those pounds in pregnancy and helps the uterus to get back to its original size more quickly. Exclusive breast-feeding, which means no supplementing with formula, also delays the return of normal ovulation and menstrual cycles. Breast-feeding has been found to lower the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and probably the risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis after menopause.
New moms find that breast-feeding makes their life easier, it saves time and money and they don’t have to warm bottles in the middle of the night! Breast-feeding also forces the mom to take some quiet relax time for herself and her baby and helps to improve the bond between the two. This physical contact, important in the bonding process, healthy infants to feel more secure and comforted.
Breast-feeding has also been found to save on health care costs because these infants have less doctors visits and are less sick than those who are fed formula. They require less prescriptions, less hospitalization and require mom to take less sick days. It’s been found that women who breast-feed their children miss less work and employer medical costs are lower while productivity is higher.
There aren’t any rules also about when to stop breast-feeding. While feeding formula past the age of one will only increase an infants chances of becoming obese infants who are breast-fed can nurse for a couple of years as long as the child is also eating other solid foods.
Infants must work harder in order to nurse at the breast as opposed to using a nipple on a bottle. This sucking promotes good jaw development and encourages the growth of straight healthy teeth.
There are very few medical reasons why a mother should not breast-feed. Most of the common illnesses which women may suffer from including upper respiratory infections, such flu, skin infections or diarrhea can not be passed through breast milk. In fact if mom has an illness, the milk will contain antibodies which will help protect the baby from those same illnesses.
There are however a few viruses that can pass through breast milk, such as HIV the virus that causes AIDS. Women who are HIV-positive should not breast-feed. Other illnesses such as herpes, hepatitis and streptococcus can also be transmitted through breast milk but it doesn’t always mean that those women should not breast-feed. Each case must be an individually evaluated with the woman’s doctor.