What are the pros and cons of breastfeeding
INFANT BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING
Breastfeeding is not the most popular choice among American women. In 1998, only 29 percent of all mothers breastfed at six months postpartum.1 The Surgeon General’s Goal for Healthy People 2010 is that 75 percent of women be breastfeeding at hospital discharge and 50 percent six months thereafter.
When you choose to breastfeed, you are giving your child a significant nutritional advantage from the very first days of life. Human milk contains exactly the right amount of fatty acids, water, lactose (sugar) and amino acids to promote healthy growth, digestion and brain development. The high lactose content of breast milk provides a readily
available energy source that is easily digested by your infant. Breast milk also contains vitamin E, a powerful antioxidant that helps to prevent anemia.With a high calcium-to-phosphorous ratio, breast milk will prevent calcium deficiency and will change the pH of your baby’s intestinal flora to protect against bacterial diarrheas. In addition to these nutritional benefits, some studies indicate that breastfed babies have a higher intelligence level and are less likely to be overweight in later life. Because breastfed babies tend to consume only as much milk as they need to satisfy their hunger, they are rarely overfed or underfed.
When you breastfeed, you are also choosing to protect your baby against many common illnesses. Approximately 80 percent of the cells in breast milk are macrophages, cells that kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. Breast milk provides antibodies that will give your baby varying degrees of protection against illnesses such as ear infections, pneumonia, bronchitis, diabetes mellitus, German measles and staphylococcal infections. Breastfeeding may also offer a protective effect against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), allergic diseases, and some chronic digestive diseases.
Although breast milk contains more than 100 ingredients that are not found in infant formula, your baby will never develop an allergy to your milk. Occasionally, you may eat something that affects your milk and your baby may react to that particular food. However, if you eliminate that food from your diet, the problem should disappear. Milk that comes directly from your breast is sterile, eliminating the dangers of bacteria in bottles or in water that has not been properly sterilized. As an additional benefit, the exercise of sucking at the breast will strengthen your baby’s jaws, promoting good jaw development and straight, healthy teeth.
MATERNAL BENEFITS OF BREASTFEEDING
The benefits of breastfeeding are not limited to your baby. As a mother, you’ll find that breastfeeding has many practical advantages. For one thing, it forces you to sit down, rest and relax for a short time every few hours, which helps to restore your energy levels. It’s convenient and economical—no bottles to sterilize or formula to buy. The process of lactation helps to stimulate your uterus to contract back to normal size and reduces postpartum bleeding. It may even help you return to pre-pregnancy weight faster by using up extra calories each day. Lactating women also seem to have improved bone remineralization after pregnancy and a decreased risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
Although not always very reliable, breastfeeding is considered to be nature’s contraceptive. It suppresses ovulation, reducing your chances of ovulating, menstruating and getting pregnant. However, it is recommended that you use another form of contraceptive while breastfeeding if you want to space out your pregnancies.
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DRAWBACKS OF BREASTFEEDING
Despite its many advantages, breastfeeding does have some drawbacks. At times, it can be inconvenient and often requires a complete change in lifestyle, affecting everything from the clothing you wear to the places you go. You are very closely tied to your baby while breastfeeding and, in some cases, your partner may not always be supportive
of your decision.
You can overcome some of the inconvenience of breastfeeding by occasionally expressing and storing your breast milk. This will give you the freedom to leave your infant with a babysitter and will allow your partner to share in the feeding routines. Bottles and nipples for storing breast milk should be sterilized and the expressed milk should be refrigerated immediately. It can be stored for up to 48 hours in the fridge or frozen for up to three months. Do not thaw or warm breast milk on the stove or in the microwave, as excessive heat can destroy vital nutrients.
In the early weeks, breastfeeding can be painful. Until your body adjusts to the new demands, your nipples may become cracked and sore and your breasts may become swollen and hard. A warm shower and manual expression of a small amount of excess milk may help to relieve the discomfort of this engorgement. There is also a possibility that you may develop clogged milk ducts, which can lead to a painful infection called mastitis. Most breastfeeding problems can be solved quite easily, although some do require medical attention.
When you decide to stop breastfeeding, or if you choose not to breastfeed at all, your breasts will eventually stop producing milk. Until this happens, though, your breasts may become swollen and painful. A well-fitted bra and ice packs or pain relievers may help ease your discomfort until your milk dries up completely.
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