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Breast-Feeding: Nature's Formula for Success

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The Decision continued...

Among the greatest medical benefits to moms is a reduction in the risk of getting at least two types of cancer -- pre-menopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer -- as well as reduced incidence of osteoporosis and hip fractures. Researchers believe that prolonged production of estrogen and other hormones while you breast-feed may trigger protective mechanisms.

"The longer you breast-feed and the more children you breast-feed, the greater the benefits to the mother," says Dr. Gartner.

Acknowledging the benefits to mother and baby, the AAP recommends that mothers nurse their babies for at least a year -- exclusively for the first six months and then gradually introducing solids. In fact, experts encourage women to go as long as they and their babies want, into the second and third year.

If you don't breast-feed for that long, though, combining breast-feeding with formula is still preferable to formula alone, experts say. And something is better than nothing.

"We know that the benefits of breast-feeding are dose-related, so a baby that's breast-fed for three months has less protection than a baby that's breast-fed for six months," says Best-Macia, who is also president of Wellcare Inc., a group of lactation consultants. "But any amount of breast-feeding is beneficial, even if it's two days in the hospital."

Of course, there is plenty that can stand in the way of a woman's decision to nurse her baby.

Besides the difficulty women may have in learning proper technique, it takes more time and commitment -- you can't just hand off your baby to anyone who can hold a bottle. If you're going to work outside the home, you'll have to pump, which requires all sorts of logistical considerations. And, breast-feeding may make it difficult for some new mothers to lose those last few pounds.

Powers says she was stunned by the pervasive negativity toward breast-feeding where she lives on the Upper East Side. "I think it's a very selfish, vain attitude. They think, 'Give the kid a bottle. I don't want it to interrupt my life. I want to be able to have my freedom. I won't do it in public. I want my body back.' "

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