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Breast-Feeding: Nature's Formula for Success

The Decision continued...

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.' "

Breast-feeding definitely wasn't the easy choice for Powers. Alexa stopped breast-feeding as soon as they left the hospital, and it took a month of frustration and sleepless nights before Powers realized that Alexa had poor sucking skills. After another month working with Best-Macia, however, Alexa finally got the hang of things.

There have been some personal trade-offs, too. For instance, hanging on to those last 10 pounds has bothered Powers, who is a personal trainer, "probably more than the average woman," she concedes. "But I'm still choosing to do it -- it's that important. I have to put my feelings about my body aside and do this for my daughter."

Many couples also may worry that if dads can't give a baby a bottle, they'll feel left out of the bonding process. But there are other ways they can enjoy some one-on-one time with their babies, such as being the one who regularly bathes the baby, Best-Macia says.

"I think we really underestimate the role of the father if we think that all he can do is imitate the role of the mother by feeding the baby," she says. "Bathing, especially if babies are in the bathtub with the father, can be a very fun and happy time. ... It's similar to a breast-feeding counterpart because fathers have skin-to-skin contact with their babies."

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