Breast is best. Anyone who hasn’t been under a rock for the last 50 years has heard this phrase repeated over and over. But why is breastfeeding superior to formula feeding? Are these advantages overstated? Does breastfeeding just benefit baby or do the parents also benefit? Consider these points.
Breastfeeding’s Benefits For Baby
The health of your new baby is a primary concern. Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed an infant. Breast milk is quite literally designed for your child. It changes to meet baby’s needs (if your baby is premature, for instance, your milk has a different composition than if he is full term).
It is a living food, unlike formula which doesn’t change in composition or flavor. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to be picky eaters due to their tasting different flavors in their mom’s milk.
Breast milk, designed to be protective (which is so important since your baby’s immune system is immature and relies on you to keep him safe) also changes to provide your baby with antibodies to whatever illness he may have been exposed to. No canned food can duplicate this process!
Studies have shown that breastfeeding has the following advantages over their formula fed peers:
- Less incidence and severity of respiratory illness.
- Higher IQ – an average of 8 points, and possibly more if baby nurses well into toddlerhood.
- Less incidence of urinary tract infection.
- Breastfed babies are less likely to have GERD (reflux) and colic.
- Since breast milk is easier to digest, there is less gas and breastfed infants do not get constipated.
- Less fussiness on baby’s part means that moms and babies bond more readily and mom enjoys caretaking more.
- Breastfed babies are less likely to succumb to SIDS and less likely to die of any cause.
- Breastfed babies handle vaccines better and have fewer negative reactions.
- Less likely to develop diabetes and some protection against obesity.
- Breastfed babies develop healthier jaws and are less likely to need orthodontics.
- Less allergies (both food and environmental) and asthma.
- Breastfed babies have fewer ear infections.
- Breastfeeding has a mild analgesic (pain-relieving) effect. Babies who are nursed through painful procedures like getting needle jabs cry less and experience less pain. Breastfeeding also provides the ideal comfort when a baby does become ill or during a stressful time such as hospitalization.
- Breastfeeding protects baby against diarrhea.
- If a breastfed baby develops diarrhea or vomiting, oral dehydration therapies are rarely needed. Breast milk is digested so easily and completely that dehydration is quite rare if baby is allowed to nurse on demand. (As a side note, breast milk is NOT a dairy product. Some mothers are told to wean or reduce baby’s breastfeeding if he catches a cold but this is false.)
- Since breast milk is considered a “clear liquid”, doctors will often allow a baby to nurse just before surgery.
Perhaps we’ve just observed the tip of the iceberg. As we learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding with the help of medical research, breast milk always comes off the clear winner.
Benefits For Mom
Many people are surprised to find that breastfeeding also benefits a mother in several ways. Some think of breastfeeding as a sacrifice, but upon examining the evidence, breastfeeding is definitely worth the effort!
- A breastfeeding woman’s uterus shrinks back to its normal, pre-pregnancy size faster. This also means less incidence of dangerous postpartum hemorrhage.
- Breastfed mothers have an easier time losing weight they gained during pregnancy. Since around 9 pounds of the pregnancy weight gain are reserved for the purposes of lactation (nature’s little insurance policy that mom will have enough reserves to support breastfeeding), that weight tends to stick around longer if mom doesn’t nurse her baby.
- Women who have nursed have a reduced risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, postpartum depression, and ovarian and endometrial cancer.
- If a breastfeeding mother does experience postpartum depression, it is usually less severe than if she were not nursing. One reason for this is that breastfeeding (if it’s going well) provides immediate comfort to both mom and baby, and mom’s body is flooded with feel-good hormones during suckling. (This is one reason why getting help if mom is experiencing breastfeeding difficulties is so important!)
- Increased confidence that comes from meeting baby’s needs, and easier bonding since hormones responsible for lactation produce a relaxed, happy feeling in the mother.
- Less stress since breastfed babies experience less colic and fewer illness.
- Delay of return of fertility. Most breastfed women cannot conceive again for several months postpartum and some don’t experience a return of their menstrual cycle until weaning. This is a welcome break for some women.
- During a natural disaster or other catastrophic situation, a breastfeeding mom doesn’t have to stress about her baby’s food source being safe.
- No worry about breast milk being unsafe or contaminated. On the other hand, formula is sometimes recalled due to dangerous substances appearing in the product.
- When a woman does work full time and has to be away from her baby, breastfeeding provides a special way to reconnect with baby at the end of the day.
- Women who breastfeed their babies for more than a year lower their risk of having a heart attack or stroke.
- Breastfeeding completes the hormonal cycle of ovulation, conception, pregnancy and birth. If lactation doesn’t happen after that, the woman’s organs are left in a more vulnerable state due to hormonal changes that take place postpartum.
Not only does breastfeeding make women more healthy, but it boosts their budget too. The cost of formula for one year is around $1500. Breastfeeding, other than the minimal cost of extra food for the mother, is literally free. Many women find that they do not need any breastfeeding “gadgets” like pumps and the like at all. Even if a woman does need an electric breast pump because she will be away from baby for several hours a day, it costs a fraction that formula would.
In addition, a nursing infant doesn’t get sick as often as a formula fed baby, meaning less money is spent on doctor visits, medicine and lost time at work.
Breastfeeding produces no waste products. No bottles are required, no cans of formula, no trucks driving products to the stores, no factories to run. There is nothing to manufacture, making breastfeeding the ecological choice. Breast milk is produced on a supply and demand basis and if a mom does have “extra” milk, she can freeze it to mix in baby’s food later or donate it to a milk bank. No trash is made so no contributions to a landfill.
Advantages For Dad
What about the baby’s father? Where does he fit into the equation? Some people think that a possible disadvantage of breastfeeding is that dad can’t feed the baby, but there are so many other things that a new father can contribute to his baby’s care. Walking, rocking, diaper changes, playing, feeding solid foods, baby wearing, bath time, nature walks… all of these are ways dads can bond with the baby.
Speaking of those diaper changes, many parents have noticed that breastfed babies literally smell better! Their poops are very mild and smell like yogurt until solid foods are introduced. Because dads are more often the primary breadwinner, they also especially appreciate that breastfed babies save the family money.