Do you plan to feed your baby with breast milk or formula? Some women know the answer to this question right away; others struggle.
Clearly, breast milk is best, and the benefits of breast-feeding are well established. Breast milk contains the right balance of nutrients for your baby, and the antibodies in breast milk boost your baby’s immune system to help fight disease. But sometimes breast-feeding isn’t possible. Feeding your baby formula instead of breast milk shouldn’t lead to feelings of guilt. Feeling guilty isn’t good for you or your baby.
For almost every new mom, the first few weeks with a newborn are likely to be demanding and exhausting. Both you and your baby are adapting to an entirely new reality, and that takes time.
Throughout this adjustment, remember that feeding your newborn is about more than just nourishment. It’s a time of cuddling and closeness that helps build the connection between you and your baby. You want to make every feeding a time to bond with your baby. Find a quiet place to feed the child, where you’re both less likely to be distracted. Cherish the time before your baby is old enough to start feeding himself or herself. That time will come soon enough.
5 KEY QUESTIONS
If you’re undecided about breast-feeding, consider these questions:
- What does your care provider suggest? Your care provider will be very supportive of breast-feeding unless you have specific health issues — such as a certain disease or disease treatment — that make formula-feeding a better choice.
- Do you have a solid understanding of both methods? Many women have mis-conceptions about breast-feeding. Learn as much as you can about feeding your baby. Seek out expert advice if needed.
- Do you plan to return to work? If so, how will that impact breast-feeding?
Does your place of work have accommodations available where you can express milk, if that’s your plan?
- How does your partner feel about the decision? The decision is ultimately yours, but you need to take your partner’s feelings into consideration.
- How have other mothers you trust and respect made their decisions? If they had it to do over again, would they make the same choices?
Breast-feeding is highly encouraged because it has many known health benefits. The longer you breast-feed, the greater the chances that your baby will experience these benefits and the more likely they are to last.
Breast-feeding is really quite amazing. Early in your pregnancy, your milk-producing (mammary) glands prepare for nursing. By about the sixth month of pregnancy, your breasts are ready to produce milk. In some women, tiny droplets of yellowish fluid (colostrum) appear on the nipples at this time. Protein-rich colostrum is what a breast-fed baby gets the first few days after birth. It’s very good for the baby because it contains infection-fighting antibodies from your body. It doesn’t yet contain milk sugar (lactose).
Your milk supply gradually increases between the third and fifth days after your baby’s birth. Your breasts will be full and sometimes tender. They may feel lumpy or hard as the glands fill with milk. When a baby nurses, breast milk is released from the milk-producing glands and is propelled down milk ducts, which are located just behind the dark circle of tissue that surrounds the nipple (areola). The sucking action of the baby compresses the areola, forcing milk out through tiny openings in the nipple.
Your baby’s sucking stimulates nerve endings in your areola and nipple, sending a message to your brain to release the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin acts on the milk-producing glands in your breast, causing the ejection of milk to your nursing baby. This release is called the let-down (milk ejection) reflex, which may be accompanied by a tingling sensation.
The let-down reflex makes your milk available to your baby. Although your baby’s sucking is the main stimulus for milk let-down, other stimuli may have the same effect. For example, your baby’s cry — or even thoughts of your baby or the sounds of rippling water — may set things in motion.
Regardless of whether you plan to breast-feed, your body produces milk after you have a baby. If you don’t breast-feed, your milk supply eventually stops. If you do breast-feed, your body’s milk production is based on supply and demand. The more frequently your breast is emptied, the more milk your breasts produce.
Benefits for baby Breast milk provides babies with:
Ideal nutrition Breast milk has just the right nutrients, in just the right amounts, to nourish your baby completely. It contains the fats, proteins, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that a baby needs for growth, digestion and brain development. Breast milk is also individualized; the composition of your breast milk changes as your baby grows.
Protection against disease Research shows that breast milk may help keep your baby from getting sick. Breast milk provides antibodies that help your baby’s immune system fight off common childhood illnesses. Breast-fed babies tend to have fewer colds, ear infections and urinary tract infections than do babies who aren’t breast-fed. Breast-fed babies may also have fewer problems with asthma, food allergies and skin conditions, such as eczema. They may be less likely to experience a reduction in the number of red blood cells (anemia). Breast-feeding, research suggests, might also help to protect against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), also known as crib death, and it may offer a slight reduction in the risk of childhood leukemia.
Breast milk may even protect against disease long term. As adults, people who were breast-fed may have a lowered risk of heart attack and stroke — due to lower cholesterol levels — and may be less likely to develop diabetes.
Protection against obesity Studies indicate that babies who are breast-fed are less likely to become obese as adults.
Easy digestion Breast milk is easier for babies to digest than is formula or cow’s milk. Because breast milk doesn’t remain in the stomach as long as formula does, breast-fed babies spit up less. They have less gas and less constipation. They also have less diarrhea, because breast milk appears to kill some diarrhea-causing germs and helps a baby’s digestive system grow and function.
Other benefits Nursing at the breast helps promote normal development of your baby’s jaw and facial muscles. It may even help your baby have fewer cavities later in childhood.
Benefits for mother For mothers, the benefits include:
Faster recovery from childbirth The baby’s suckling triggers your body to release oxytocin, a hormone that causes your uterus to contract. This means that the uterus returns to its pre-pregnancy size more quickly after delivery than it does if you use formula.
Suppresses ovulation Breast-feeding delays the return of ovulation and therefore your period, which may help extend the time between pregnancies.
May protect long-term health Breast-feeding may reduce your risk of getting breast cancer before menopause. Breast-feeding also appears to provide some protection from uterine and ovarian cancers.