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Breastfeeding Update

Breastfeeding Update

WebMD Feature

Whether to breastfeed or formula feed is one of a new mother's earliest and most important decisions. The final choice is always a personal one and not necessarily easy to make.

What should help make your decision easier, however, is knowing that evidence continues to mount suggesting that breast milk as the exclusive source of nutrition for the first six months of life (with continued breastfeeding through the first year of life after the introduction of solid foods) provides substantial benefits to both baby and mother. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) revised its policy statement regarding breastfeeding in 1997, recommending breast milk as the "preferred feeding for all infants, including premature and sick newborns." If you're still undecided, here's some "food for thought":

Breastfeeding Enhances the Emotional Bond

Breastfeeding right after delivery establishes a powerful emotional bond between mother and baby. The stronger the emotional bond between baby and mother, the more likely the mother will be sensitive and responsive to her baby's behavior. Hundreds of studies show that such a bond helps babies to develop a trusting relationship with mother and to adapt to life outside the womb.

Breastfeeding May Aid Brain Development

Breastmilk is thought to provide the optimal fat source for the development of nerve cells in the brain. Although the differences are small and reasons have not been clearly established, several studies have consistently shown that breastfed babies as a group perform better on standardized tests compared to babies who were not breastfed.

Breastfed Babies Are Healthier

Breastmilk helps build up a baby's immune system. Breastfed babies are far less likely to have ear infections and other respiratory infections. They are also less likely to have a number of other serious conditions throughout life, including:

  • blood infections
  • meningitis (a potentially life-threatening infection of the brain)
  • urinary-tract infections
  • intestinal disorders such as diarrhea
  • chronic diseases, including diabetes
  • allergic conditions such as eczema, asthma and some food allergies

Premature babies, whose immune systems are relatively undeveloped, may especially benefit from breastfeeding.

Moms Benefit, Too

Research has shown that mothers who nurse their infants as recommended by the AAP are less likely to develop premenopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer, as well as osteoporosis, compared to women who do not breastfeed. Breastfeeding helps with weight loss after pregnancy, when mothers breastfeed exclusively for six months or longer. Mothers who breastfeed longer than six months report greater happiness and emotional security. Because their babies are healthier, working mothers are absent less often from work, are more productive, have reduced health care expenses and report that they experience less stress.

Coping with Obstacles

Anticipating possible problems will help get you and your baby off to a better beginning. For starters, know your hospital's policy regarding breastfeeding and the availability of resources for breastfeeding. Here are some important questions to ask:

  • Can your baby room with you or does she have to stay in a group nursery? Research has shown that infants who room with their mothers have less incidence of jaundice and breastfeed more often and for a longer duration.
  • Does the hospital assume that it is okay to offer formula to all babies regardless of the mother's wishes? Make sure your hospital knows whether or not you want to breastfeed exclusively.
  • What resources can your ob-gyn's office or pediatrician's office provide? Will a lactation consultant be on hand? Will someone be available to answer questions by telephone?

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