Why Should I Breastfeed My Baby?

(This post really is geared toward pregnant mothers who are trying to decide whether or not to  “try” breastfeeding.) :)

Oddly enough, I typed this into a search engine to see what would come up, and not much did. Maybe it was the way I worded it (ie, if I put in “benefits of breastfeeding”, I wonder what would have come up?)  However, I also wondered if perhaps we are not doing a great job in the medical world and the world of lactation consultants in getting the word out to the public about the very specific benefits of breastfeeding.  Many mothers seem to “know” that breastfeeding *might* be better than not breastfeeding, but I wonder if mothers can think of very specific targeted benefits.

On that note, I thought I would write a list and have it handy on this blog.  The references for this article came from the newly revised “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”, from Marsha Walker’s  “Core Curriculum For Lactation Consultant Practice” and varioud PubMed studies.

Breastfeeding is the beginning of mothering.  It is far more than just a way to feed your baby.  The breast is the first place for a baby to go for warmth, security, love in addition to food.  Breastfeeding is the place where you learn how to be attached and connected to your child.

Benefits For The Child:

Specific Components of Human Milk:

  • Human milk is specific for our infants – mother’s milk matches more than 50 percent of the baby’s genetic material.
  • Human milk is not “static” – there is colostrum from one to five days post-birth, transitional milk and mature milk. The composition of human milk also changes within one feeding period and changes over the 24-hour day.
  • Human milk contains the aroma and flavors of the mother’s diet which is what the baby smelled and tasted in utero.
  • Human milk has very little residual; the baby’s kidneys and liver don’t have to work as hard to digest human milk
  • The protein in human milk is whey (in cow’s milk, the predominate protein is casein) –>  the total protein in human milk is very low
  • Human milk contains 19 amino acids essential to development.  Taurine is essential for the development of the brain and the retina and other processes and is not found in cow’s milk.
  • Human milk has mucins that kill cancer cells in vitro
  • Human milk has Secretory IgA that coats the mucosal surfaces inside the baby’s gut and prevents pathogens from invading.
  • Human milk has more than 40 enzymes in it for digestion and to stimulate neonatal development
  • Human milk has hormones and hormone-like substances in it that provide anti-inflammatory properties.
  • Human milk has growth factors in it that aid the growth of nerves, gut maturity.
  • Human milk has lactose which assists in the absorption of calcium and iron
  • Human milk has cholesterol which is very important in infants and small children in order to lay down myelin sheaths that surround nerve and increase nerve conduction.  There typically is little to no cholesterol in formula.
  • Human milk has fatty acids
  • Human milk has Vitamin A, Carotene, Vitamin D, Vitamin D and Vitamin K – (Vitamin K is highest in colostrum),   along with a wide range of water-soluble vitamins including Vitamin B12 and a wide range of minerals and trace elements.
  • The iron in human milk is better absorbed due to the presence of lactose in milk.
  • Human milk has lactoferrin that helps prevent necrotizing enterocolitis and prevents infection in addition to transporting iron.
  • Human milk has interferon and interleukins that are anti-infectives.
  • This is a lovely article about the specific components of human milk and how we are just starting to figure a few things out about it:  http://www.babygooroo.com/index.php/2010/10/20/chasing-nature/

Specific Health Benefits for Infants and Children:

  • Without human milk, an infant is at higher risk of ear infections, intestinal problems and respiratory problems
  • Without human milk, an infant is more likely to have allergies and dental problems
  • The nervous system and vision do not develop as well.
  • If you do choose to vaccinate your breastfeeding infant or child, the effect of the vaccine will be more greater than in an infant or child who is not being breastfed
  • The risk of SIDS is lower if your infant is breastfed.
  • A breastfed infant has a lower risk of being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Type I diabetes,  heart disease, and cancers.
  • A formula fed infant is at higher risk for childhood leukemia and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
  • Infants who are not breastfed react more negatively to stress later in life
  • Infants who are not breastfed have higher risk of high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
  • Formula fed infants demonstrate less advanced cognitive development compared to infants who were breastfed.  IQ studies show that higher IQ’s are dose dependent relative to the number of months that a child was exclusively breastfed.
  • An breastfed infant tends to have a palate and jaw shape that is more developed
  • A nursing infant gets the opportunity to regulate their own intake depending upon whether they are thirsty, or hungry or super hungry!
  • The immune benefits in breast milk go UP in toddlerhood.

Specific Benefits for Mothers:

Breastfeeding is a NORMAL step in pregnancy, birth and lactation

A post-partum breastfeeding mother’s uterus will contract and slow bleeding more quickly – post-partum maternal hemorrhage is a greater risk with formula feeding of an infant

If you breastfeed EXCLUSIVELY (no pacifiers, no solids, no formula, and your baby nurses frequently, ) the return of your fertility will be delayed. This helps assist in natural child spacing.

Breastfeeding helps many mothers lose weight.

Women who have never breastfed are at greater risk for metabolic syndrome where heart disease and diabetes are more likely.

Breastfeeding decreases your risk of breast, uterine and cervical cancer.

Breastfeeding decreases your risk of osteoporosis and  fractures.

Depressed mothers and their babies are benefitted by breastfeeding, according to psychological studies.

Breastfeeding is:

A Normal Way to feed infants and children

Easy with no formula to prepare, no bottle to wash, no heating up

Saves money

Always available, even in a natural disaster

I am sure I missed some specific benefits of breastfeeding; if you all think of one not on my list please add it to the comment box below!

For those of you having trouble with breastfeeding, here is an encouraging article about why women persist with trying:  http://www.normalfed.com/Why/whydoing.html

For those of you who are extended nursing, here is a link to one mother’s story:  http://www.babygooroo.com/index.php/2010/08/19/why-i-breastfed-for-three-years/

For those of you who truly tried everything and had to give  your breastfeeding relationship up, please see this post:  http://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/11/17/i-have-done-everything-and-breastfeeding-isnt-working-out/

Many blessings,

Carrie

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19 thoughts on “Why Should I Breastfeed My Baby?

  1. Wonderful post. I am reading this as I nurse my 20month old to sleep. Breastfeeding is a journey. At first their may be ups and downs, but once you are on the path it is such an amazing experience and worth everything. I feel blessed and lucky to still be nursing my little sprout.

  2. Thank you for highlighting all of the wonderful benefits of breastmilk. I also wanted to share how we were able to successfully give our son breastmilk without breastfeeding. I pumped for 27 months. Due to our son’s extreme prematurity and ongoing medical issues (feeding tubes, supplemental oxygen, chronic lung disease) he was unable to nurse. We did fortify my milk with formula for extra calories but for the first 15 months he was able to receive breastmilk with just enough formula to increase the calories. After that we went 50/50 with a high calorie supplement due to his nutritional needs and less supply of breastmilk.

    What empowered me was the support of our son’s primary nurse who was also a lactation consultant (he was in the NICU for 4 months), the support of my husband, my wonderful Medela Lactina (which we ended up purchasing) and our desire to provide our son with the immune system support that only breastmilk provides. After coming home from the NICU, he was only sick one time before the age of 2! I will also give some credit to our self imposed isolation and Synagis:)

    Thank you again for all of your posts and thoughtfulness.

  3. I think breast milk cures all ills LOL! I swear it helps with teething, and was responsible for the comments I heard at playgroup from other parents about how calm and easy-going my son is.

    I also credit breastfeeding with having a child who thoroughly enjoys food, and is not at all fussy. He had a very varied diet both in the womb and outside it before going on to solids.

    Finally, my son will still tell you today (at age 7) that breast milk is the best thing he has ever tasted – even better than chocolate. What better recommendation can you get?

  4. Thanks Carrie
    I have been breastfeeding my dear girl for two years now and have lately been feeling ‘over it’. And wondered how I could encourage her to wean. Her brother weaned himself shortly before she was born around 20-months old. It was good to read the link of the mom who breasted for 3 years. After reading your post I feel as if I have new resolve to breastfeed until my daughter is ready to give it up.

  5. This is a lovely list. I breastfed my son until he was almost 2. He weaned himself because I was pregnant with my second and my milk supply dwindled by the 2nd trimester. I am now feeding my 12 week old and loving every moment. Even the days where it feels like she never stops sucking. I cherish these moments. There is a lot on my blog about ‘extended breastfeeding’ and support. http://ecomilf.blogspot.com/search/label/breastfeeding xo m.

  6. First – all of your posts are so inspiring. Whenever I’m feeling overwhelmed, I always find something to give me a little pep, whether it be about marriage, child-rearing, or what I age-appropriate behavior I should legitimately be expecting from my little ones.

    Second – I have another breastfeeding plus… It’s just plain neat. And it’s just plain rewarding. And it makes one’s babies smell so good. Is that more than one?

  7. I had a hard time with nursing but I was able to keep with it for a long time. I’m so glad I waited out the rough start as it became such a wonderful bonding time that lasted years. We both found a sense of “home” and comfort in it I think.

    My son last nursed at age 4. I had let him self wean and it had been months since he had asked for it. He had only been nursing every few days from age 2 1/2 on, more for comfort and reassurance than anything else. One day when he was 4, he came down with an awful flu and was inconsolable until I suggested the almighty boobie! We were waiting in a walk in medical clinic and he had been crying for some time when I suggested it. I don’t think anyone was any the wiser to what we were doing. It just looked like we were cuddling… but as soon as he latched – instant calm! Eyes rolled back in his head, he relaxed and I felt so much better because I was able to help him feel better. Now that he is almost 6 and really and truly done with nursing, I sometimes miss the power of being able to comfort him so completely and instantly.

    Breastfeeding was amazing. I am so glad I got to experience it!

  8. I am so sick of lists like this – where are your references? Many of the benefits you have listed have been presented in limited scientific research, there is not enough evidence to claim these as facts yet. Yes, there are SOME benefits to breastfeeding for both mother and child, but breastfeeding is not the best for EVERY mother/child duo. Supply/latching issues and PPD are just a few reasons that breastfeeding may not be ideal. There are plenty of women out there who feel so guilty for feeding their babies formula even though it is the best thing to do in their situation. A little moderation in the “breast is best” propaganda would alleviate a lot of pointless guilt.

  9. Pingback: “I Have Done Everything and Breastfeeding Isn’t Working Out” « The Parenting Passageway

  10. Honestly, Corinne, can you tell me that there is more breast is best propaganda than formula? The only place you hear this slogan in mainstream is from formula companies which are required by law to state this fact. If it was not a fact, then they would not be required to state it!

    Mothers are assaulted left and right with subtle and often not so subtle suggestions: from free bags at the hospital, to the Dr’s Office waiting rooms, constant coupons in the mail, not so kind suggestions from strangers and mother in laws. We simply need to get back to a place where breastfeeding is the NORM, where it is such common knowledge that any woman could assist you in helping your child breastfeed (just like it used to be). Where there is no need to hide in the car to nurse or use a blanket over your child’s head. If we only got to that place again, then we would not need the reminders that often lead to guilt. We would instead assume that a woman who is bottle feeding is doing it out of necessity, and not convenience or to preserve her breasts for her spouse or looks sake.

    Mothers will find guilt EVERYWHERE, regardless of the choice. If you have your baby cry it out, if you co sleep, if your house is pristine or a mess, every single choice as a mother you will second and triple guess. Every single choice will come with its own set of guilt. Insisting that we keep quiet only furthers this problem.

  11. I just posted on the “if it didn’t work out” post so I will be quick but basically I just want to say what an awesome post this is! Breast and breastmilk IS oh so totally best and there are a million ways to make it work even if it is complicated. Regarding the above comment…a lot of guilt is indeed unnecessary. Not because these mothers shouldn’t feel bad about having to bottle feed with formula. Of course if that is truly the only option…guilt has no place. But guilt would only truly not be necessary if women were given other information and options to still “breastfeed” despite tough situations. For low-supply mothers such as myself this includes supplementing at the breast with a device such as a lact-aid and education as to the safety and relative availability of donor breastmilk.

    It is when mothers have a feeling there is something they “could have tried”…that is when the guilt creeps in. And unfortunately because some alternative forms of breastfeeding aren’t common, taught, or socially acceptable…it is true that though many women did try everything they may have known to try….they did not “try everything”.

  12. I have been breastfeeding for almost 7 years, and that’s three children, my youngest being 28 months and going strong.(unfortunately I was unlucky enough to have my cycles return despite around the clock feeding!)

    As a first time mother it is very difficult to find adequate support at times to breastfeed. I had a very rough start, and the only thing that really got me through was the fact that I am totally stubborn and was so determined to do it.

    I am well past the point of judging others and their parenting choices…to each their own and all that, but I truly feel that mothers who choose not to breastfeed their babies miss out on so much, and I can’t help but feel incredibly sad to see brand new babes being fed formula.

    This is not about making people feel guilty. If you don’t want to do it, then don’t. But own your decision and don’t try to undermine others by saying formula is just as good. It just isn’t.

  13. Before I became a mother I used to look down on women who formula fed their babies. I was going to exclusively breastfeed!

    Then I had my baby. I nursed and pumped for two weeks. Then I quit.

    It wasn’t because I did not know the benefits of nursing. It wasn’t because I did not have support in my community. It wasn’t because I wanted to preserve my breasts. It wasn’t because I was inconvienced.

    It was because I suffer from Major Depression Disorder Recurrent. I have since I was 19. I have been in and out of therapy…taken over a dozen medications…it took a long time to find a combination of meds that worked.

    Then I got pregnant and since I planned to nurse I eliminated or changed my meds. Within two weeks of my son’s birth I was suicidal. I could not function. I could not mother.

    Contrary to what publications like Mothering would have you believe breastfeeding is not a cure for severe post partum or any kind of depression and oftentimes women need stronger meds than zoloft.

  14. Pt 2

    I knew my son needed a healthy happy mama who wanted to nurture him rather than a breast whose owner wanted to die. So I chose to do what Dr. Sears calls Bottlefeeding With Love.

    I gave him plenty of skin to skin contact and made bottlefeeding a snuggly warm time with soft lullabies and eye to eye contact.

    Yes I felt sad and a little guilty I needed to take meds that were not compatible with nursing but breastfeeding was not compatible with the reality of our situation. I hope in the future if we have another it will be but if not I won’t beat myself up.

    My son is a happy healthy 19 month old who is hitting and even surpassing his milestones. He is extremely well attached and trusting. He is an explorer. He is loved.

    If you do not have any major impediment I recommend nursing of course. It is better…of course. But if you must bottlefeed you can still put yr baby in a co sleeper and wear them in a sling. You can cloth diaper. You can create a gentle nurturing peaceful environment.

    • Sara, Thank you for your story; I am sure it will bring hope to many mothers.
      Check out the next post as well about making peace when breastfeeding doesn’t work out.
      Nice to have you here,
      Carrie

  15. Carrie, I like your webpage on the benefits of breastfeeding however to make it more credible (so more moms will say “Hey this site looks legit!” so they’re more likely to stay on the page) it’d be a good idea to cite your infomation. Mentioning Marsha Walker’s book and the PubMed articles is good, but provide the reader web links or enough information to pursue those resources themselves via APA format. (I like how do provide us with links to read on more subjects.)
    That’s it, and thank you!

  16. well…..thanks for the tip..m a staunch supporter of breast feeding since breast milk has the right proportions of proteins, carbohydrates, fats and other nutrients your baby needs to grow and develop……easy to digest. Unlike proteins found in regular cow’s milk, the proteins in breast milk are naturally gentle and easy to digest. also wud like to share dis useful blog that i found out from http://www.nappytimes.com

    http://www.nappytimes.com/blog/entry/benefits-of-breastfeeding

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