The best source of nutrition for your baby is nature's recipe: human breast milk.
Breast milk provides the nutrients your baby needs in the first year of life. It also gives your baby protection against infections, reminds the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
And breastfeeding does more than nurture your baby's body. You and your baby can enjoy physical contact, warmth and closeness. This all helps create special bonds between you when you breastfeed.
The perfect food
Breast milk provides many benefits to your baby.
For example, it contains just the right amount of protein, fat and sugar for your baby. Breast milk is easy for your baby to digest because the nutrients are better absorbed than those in formula.
Breast milk also has antibodies and other substances. These protect your baby from health problems such as:
- Ear infections.
- Urinary tract infections.
Breast milk also requires no preparation. Plus it costs less than formula. And it's always in supply.
Health benefits for moms
The process of nursing also:
- Burns calories to help you get back to your normal weight.
- Reduces the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
- Helps your uterus return to its usual size.
The longer you are able to nurse your baby, the better it is for both of you. Breastfeeding for a year or more is ideal, says the AAP.
Researchers continue to explore the ways breast milk helps babies. For example, some studies suggest that breast milk may help prevent obesity. Four-month-old breastfed babies have a lower rate of weight gain than formula-fed babies do. This slowing of weight gain at 4 months old is natural. And it may help keep breastfed babies from becoming obese.
Breastfeeding can be challenging for new moms. Breast milk is digested more quickly than formula. That means babies have to be fed more often. You have to be awake and ready to breastfeed when your baby is hungry. And that can be very tiring.
Breastfeeding limits how much other family members can help you feed the baby. But they can help out by changing your baby's diapers and doing other tasks.
You may also choose to express milk into a bottle. That way your partner or other family members can feed the baby.
You can express milk manually. Or you can use a breast pump. If you need to return to work, you can store your breast milk in the refrigerator for your baby to eat when you can't be there.
Breastfeeding moms also have to watch what they eat. Some foods, such as cow's milk, can upset some babies' stomachs and make them fussy. Your doctor can help you figure out what foods may be a problem for your baby.
Breast or bottle?
You may choose not to breastfeed for personal or medical reasons. Feeding your baby formula from a bottle is just fine. It still lets you establish a close relationship at feeding time.
And even though it doesn't have the antibodies that breast milk does, formula gives your baby the nutrition he or she needs. And you still provide your baby with physical contact and comfort.
The AAP says mothers should use formulas that are fortified with iron. This mineral is important for normal growth and development.