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The benefits of breastfeeding

The decision whether or not to breastfeed your baby can be a difficult one.  Many factors can affect your attitude toward breastfeeding, such as work situations, family support systems, and cultural factors.  As pediatricians, we recommend and encourage exclusive breastfeeding for infants.  Breastfeeding has an array of benefits for both baby and mother.

Breast milk is the optimal nutritional source for your baby.  The composition of breast milk makes it easier to digest than most commercially-available formulas.  In the United States, death rates, including SIDS deaths, are reduced in breastfed infants compared with those who are formula fed.   Breast milk provides all of the calories needed by infants to grow and develop. It also has added benefits on the immune system.  In a number of studies, breast milk has been found to decrease the incidence of many infectious diseases, including meningitis, ear infections, respiratory infections, bowel infections, blood infections and urinary tract infections.  In addition, breastfed infants have a lower risk of developing both food and environmental allergies compared with formula fed infants.   There have also been studies to suggest a decreased risk of asthma, obesity and diabetes in breastfed infants.

Breastfeeding has many benefits for mothers as well.  It has been shown to decrease maternal blood loss after childbirth and can lead to a faster recovery.  The act of suckling at the breast promotes bonding between infants and mothers, and the hormones released during breastfeeding can improve maternal response to stress.  Breastfeeding requires a significant number of calories and therefore helps with post-partum weight loss.  It also delays the return of mother’s menstrual period and can be a natural form of post-partum contraception.  Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer later in life.   In addition, breastfeeding is the most cost effective way to feed baby and is readily available, requiring little preparation (which can be a big benefit in the middle of the night).  There is also less environmental waste with breastfeeding.

There are a few common barriers to breastfeeding. There is often a lack of education regarding all the benefits of breastfeeding, a lack of support from family members, friends and colleagues, and difficulty with breastfeeding initiation. It is important to discuss your decision to breastfeed with your significant other. Mothers with more support often have a more successful and enjoyable breastfeeding experience. There are many resources available to help you with your decision to breastfeed, including local breastfeeding centers, hospital lactation consultants and your pediatrician.

Breastfeeding is best for your baby. It is a natural source of nutrition and helps you bond with your newborn. Like all things new, breastfeeding takes practice. Your pediatrician can be a useful resource for any questions you have regarding your decision to breastfeed.

Reference source:  Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, AAP Policy Statement.  PEDIATRICS Vol. 115 No. 2 February 2005