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All About Breastfeeding

By: Elizabeth Grace - Updated: 2 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Breastfeeding Breast Milk Infant Formula

Experts agree breast milk is the best choice for infant nutrition and is the only food necessary for the first six months of life. There are so many good reasons to choose breastfeeding, but the nutritional superiority of breast milk over infant formula is by far the most important one.

In addition to being the perfect baby food, breastfeeding mothers often cite the closeness that they feel to their infants while feeding to be a wonderful benefit of nursing. In a hurried world, taking time to slow down, relax and spend time focusing only on feeding your baby can be a wonderful experience. Additionally, some nursing mothers say that they enjoy the idea that they are the only ones who can supply their baby with breast milk, making the experience that much more special.

The Benefits For Mum

Mothers benefit in a physical, as well as in an emotional way from breastfeeding. Breastfeeding burns calories and shrinks the uterus, helping mothers get back into their pre-pregnancy clothes a little quicker. Additionally, evidence shows that breastfeeding lowers a woman's risk of premenopausal breast cancer and may reduce their chances of getting uterine and ovarian cancer.

Breastfeeding can certainly be easier than bottle feeding, especially in the middle of the night. There are no bottles to prepare and warm; all you need is a mother and a baby. When travelling, breastfeeding mothers can relax, knowing that their babies will definitely have easy access to their milk when they are hungry. No worries about finding a place to prepare bottles or to warm them up. And unlike formula fed babies, breastfeeding mothers do not have to concern themselves with having a sufficient supply of formula, sterilised water, bottles and teats on hand. Additionally, breastfeeding is gentler on the pocket than bottle feeding since there are no special supplies required.

Benefits For Baby

Digestion is typically easier for breastfed babies than for their formula fed peers. Breast milk digests easily and quickly, while formula typically takes longer to digest and can cause gassiness and constipation. As long as the mother watches her diet to avoid troublesome foods and beverages, almost all breastfed babies do well on a diet of their mother's milk.

Breastfed babies benefit from important antibodies that get passed to them through their mother's milk that cannot be duplicated in commercially prepared infant formulas. Breastfed babies suffer fewer ear and respiratory infections, allergies, asthma, diabetes and obesity. Some studies indicate that children who were breastfed are smarter than those that were bottle fed, scoring 5-10 points higher on IQ tests. Breastfeeding even appears to lower the chances that your baby will succumb to cot death. For these reasons, whenever possible, experts recommend that babies be fed an exclusive diet of breast milk for the first six months and then continue breastfeeding along with the introduction of other foods until 12 months (or even longer) if the mother and baby are both willing.

A Few Common Breastfeeding Challenges

As beneficial as breastfeeding is for both mother and child, there are a few challenges, as well. Some babies have a hard time getting the hang of breastfeeding, which can be stressful and frustrating for the mother. With a little patience and proper guidance, however, most mothers find that their babies do master breastfeeding. Breast soreness can be another difficulty, especially in the beginning. This problem usually diminishes fairly quickly, but some mothers discontinue breastfeeding because they find the experience to be physically painful.

Choosing to breastfeed does require a considerable time commitment. Since breast milk is quickly digested, breastfed babies need to eat frequently, which can be a bit exhausting for sleep deprived new mothers. Also, since the mother is the only one who can nurse the baby, she rarely gets a break unless she chooses to pump milk so that the father or other caregiver can assist with feedings.

When Not to Breastfeed

Although most healthy mothers can breastfeed, there are medical conditions that can make it inadvisable for the mother to do so. Mothers with HIV or AIDS are typically instructed not to breastfeed their babies, as are mothers who are undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Mothers who are on any medications, whether prescription or over the counter, should check with their doctors before breastfeeding. Many times it is okay, but caution is always best.

Breastfeeding can be beneficial for both mother and child. While it is not the right choice for everyone, many mothers who have chosen to breastfeed their infants would attest to the fact that it is a rich and rewarding experience.

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