Choosing how and what to feed your baby is a personal decision that deserves careful and thorough consideration. Breast milk is the natural nutritional source for infants younger than one year of age.
Most health care professionals (including the American Academy of Pediatricians and the National Association of Pediatric Nurse Associates and Practitioners) recommend breastfeeding for your baby's first year.
Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for the first 6 months of life. It contains appropriate amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat, and provides the digestive proteins (enzymes), minerals, vitamins, and hormones that infants need. Breast milk also contains antibodies from the mother that can help the baby resist infections.
Experts agree that breastfeeding your baby for any length of time, regardless of how short, is of benefit to you and your baby.
You can provide your baby with breast milk directly by breastfeeding or by feeding your baby breast milk from a bottle.
Breastfeeding your baby directly from your breast can only be done by you. It can be done exclusively or can be supplemented with bottle feedings.
Breast milk feeding with a bottle:
- Can be given with a bottle by you or others
- Requires regular pumping of milk from your breasts
- Requires appropriate handling and storage of milk
- Requires appropriate preparation of bottles and nipples
Most doctors advise strictly breastfeeding for the first couple of weeks, until breastfeeding is firmly established, rather than switching back and forth to a bottle. This recommendation is based on the possibility of nipple confusion, which can cause sucking and feeding problems for infants who are switched between breastfeeding and bottle feeding. After the infant is 2 months of age, most adapt to bottle nipples easily.
Breastfeeding is a natural function, but is not necessarily a natural instinct for mothers. Most mothers need information about how to feed their babies. Mothers also need support, encouragement, and assistance after birth to enjoy feeding and caring for their babies.
ADVANTAGES OF BREASTFEEDING
Research shows that breastfed babies may have less frequent:
Breastfed babies may have less risk for developing:
Moms who breastfeed their babies enjoy:
- Easier weight loss
- Enhancement of the unique bond between mother and child
- Less postpartum bleeding
- Lower cost for feedings
- No bottle cleaning
- No formula preparation
Moms who breastfeed their babies should:
- Drink plenty of fluids, especially water, every day
- Eat well and maintain proper nutrition
- Get plenty of rest
- Relax and enjoy the experience
- Take good care of your nipples and breasts
- Understand that any medications taken may enter the breast milk and affect the baby
Check with your health care provider or lactation consultant about which medications are safe, and do not stop any prescribed medication without discussing with your provider first.
If you run into any problems, contact a lactation consultant. Moms who breastfeed may have:
- Breast engorgement
- Difficulty knowing how much milk the baby is drinking
- Leaking breasts
Let-down reflex (other than during breastfeeding)
- Nipple soreness
- Not enough milk for the baby's needs
Moms who breastfeed their babies may feel confused by lack of experience or support, afraid or ashamed to ask for help for such a "natural" activity.
Most problems can be easily managed with guidance from a lactation consultant.
Some circumstances can change your plans to breastfeed. How and what your baby eats may ultimately depend on the infant's physical condition and your health after birth. However, with help from a consultant, most babies -- even premature babies -- can breastfeed.
Some babies are unable to adequately breastfeed due to:
- Birth defects of the mouth (cleft lip or cleft palate)
- Difficulty sucking
- Digestive problems (galactosemia)
- Premature birth
- Small size
- Weak physical condition
See a lactation consultant if you have a breast infection or breast abscess, breast cancer or other cancer, previous surgery or radiation treatment, or inadequate milk supply (uncommon).
Breastfeeding is not recommended for mothers who have certain health problems such as:
- Active herpes lesions on the breast
- Active, untreated tuberculosis
- HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) infection or AIDS
- Serious illnesses (heart disease or cancer, for example)
- Severe malnutrition
See breastfeeding tips for ways to overcome common problems. Health care professionals, such as physicians, dietitians, nurses, and nurse-midwives, can help answer your questions.
An excellent resource is the La Leche League International -- www.lalecheleague.org.
See also: Beastfeeding support group