Wondering if breast is best? Here’s why it might be.
Whether you’re about to have your first baby or your fourth, you’re faced with the decision of whether to breastfeed or formula feed your baby.
You’ve likely heard how breastfeeding can be difficult at the start. This can be true with anything new you’re learning, but with support from your family, friends, lactation consultants and other healthcare providers, breastfeeding can be a rewarding experience that comes with some added benefits — it can make parents and babies healthier.
“Breast milk provides just the right nutrients to help an infant grow strong in their first months of life,” says Jessica Sember, BSN, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) at Geisinger. “The old saying that ‘breast is best’ is absolutely true for parents, too.”
Here are some benefits of breastfeeding:
1. Reduce the risk of SIDS
The causes of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) aren’t always identifiable, but experts have identified risk factors and have tips for reducing the chance of SIDS — including breastfeeding.
“There is evidence that breastfeeding may reduce the incidence of SIDS,” says Sember.
It’s thought that breastfeeding helps protect infants from certain infections that may put them at higher risk of SIDS.
2. Boost the baby’s immune system
Breast milk contains antibodies that help protect your baby from certain types of bacteria and viruses. A baby who consumes nothing but breast milk for the first six months is less likely to have bouts of diarrhea, ear infections or respiratory illnesses.
3. Breastfeeding benefits your health
For parents, breastfeeding can reduce the risk of certain types of reproductive cancers, including ovarian, breast and uterine. The longer a person breastfeeds, the greater the protection.
“Breastfeeding also provides protection against postpartum hemorrhage, osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis,” says Sember.
4. Babies develop fewer allergies
Along with boosting your baby’s immune system, breast milk can decrease the incidence of food allergies. Exclusive breastfeeding for three to four months has been proven to decrease asthma, atopic dermatitis and eczema.
5. Boost your metabolism
Breastfeeding burns calories, which may help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight faster. Parents should eat when they feel hungry and drink when they’re thirsty to help their body produce enough milk for their babies. Breastfeeding is not a time to start dieting, as it may have negative effects on milk supply.
“Parents and caregivers should eat a variety of foods while breastfeeding, limiting calories from added sugars and saturated fats,” says Sember.
6. Create a close emotional bond
Breastfeeding not only nurtures your baby, it also creates a strong emotional bond between caregiver and child. Oxytocin, a hormone that leads to positive emotions such as trust, is released throughout the parent’s body while they breastfeed.
7. Save time and money
In a more practical sense, breastfeeding also saves time and money. Parents who breastfeed exclusively don’t have to buy formula or spend time prepping as many bottles. What’s more, breastfed babies typically need less medical care and prescriptions, which saves everyone money.
Ultimately, though, when it comes to breast versus formula, the decision is up to you. Do what’s best for you and your little one, making informed — but guilt-free — decisions.