Making the decision to breastfeed is a very personal matter. It's also one that's very likely to elicit strong opinions from friends and family.
Many medical authorities, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, strongly recommend breastfeeding. But you and your baby are unique, and the decision is up to you. To help you decide, WebMD offers this overview of breastfeeding. Find out what the benefits are for you and your baby. And if you do decide to breastfeed, here's information you can use to get started with confidence.
What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby?
Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has the perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat -- everything your infant needs to grow. And it's all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding reduces your baby's risk of having asthma or allergies. Babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood in some studies. The physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. The AAP says breastfeeding plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). It's been thought to lower the risk of diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers as well but more research is needed to confirm these findings.
Are There Breastfeeding Benefits for the Mother?
Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may also lower your risk of osteoporosis.
Since you don't have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples, or warm bottles, breastfeeding saves you time and money. Deciding to breastfeed provides you with regular time for relaxing quietly with your newborn as you grow close and emotionally bond.
Will I Make Enough Milk to Breastfeed?
The first few days after birth, your breasts produce an ideal "first milk." It's called colostrum. Colostrum is thick, yellowish, and scant -- but there's plenty to meet your baby's nutritional needs. Colostrum helps a newborn's digestive tract develop and prepare itself to digest breast milk.
Most babies lose a small amount of weight in the first three to five days after birth. This is unrelated to breastfeeding. A natural feedback loop exists between your baby's feeding needs and your milk production. As your baby needs more milk and nurses more, your breasts respond by producing more milk. Experts recommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice, or water) for six months. If you supplement with formula, your milk production may go down.
Even if you breastfeed less than the recommended six months, it's better to breastfeed for a short time than no time at all. You can add solid food at six months but also continue to breastfeed if you want to keep producing milk.