Breastfeeding is the oldest, most natural way to feed a baby. Health and nutrition experts agree that breastmilk is the healthiest food for babies. Studies have found the following advantages of breastfeeding:
- Breastmilk is the ideal food for babies. It contains the perfect balance of nutrients including fats and proteins that are important for digestion, growth, and brain development.
- Breastmilk has antibodies that protect babies from illnesses. Breastfed babies are less likely to have colds, ear infections, pneumonia, and diarrhea.
- Breastfed babies are less likely to develop allergies.
- Breastfed babies are less likely to become overweight.
- Breastfeeding provides a unique skin-to-skin closeness, warmth, and bonding with your baby.
- Breastfeeding helps mothers get back in shape after the pregnancy and lowers your risk of breast cancer.
- Breastfeeding is inexpensive, convenient, and safe—the baby's milk is always ready, in the right amount at the right temperature; and you don't have to worry about buying formula, mixing it, heating it, and keeping it safe from spoiling. The more you nurse your baby, the more milk you'll make. Breastfeeding is especially convenient for nighttime feedings and outings.
- Learn and try out the different positions for breastfeeding. Sometimes babies latch on right away, but sometimes it takes a little practice. Learn about breastfeeding from the nurses in the hospital and make sure you feel comfortable with breastfeeding before you take your newborn home. If you have difficulties with breastfeeding, there's help for you—contact your doctor, nurse, or community organizations (visit www.breastfeeding.com or www.lalecheleague.org).
- Take care of yourself. Drink plenty of liquids, eat well, continue to take your prenatal vitamins, and get enough rest—your body is working to make milk. Don't take any medication or drug without checking first with your doctor, since some can be harmful for your baby.
- Even though you're the main source of your baby's nutrition, other people such as your husband, parents, or child care provider can feed your baby too. You may choose to give your baby only breastmilk or also give formula. Once your baby is a few weeks old and breastfeeding is going well, you can try giving your baby a bottle of breastmilk or formula. You can pump your breastmilk by hand or with a breast pump, and save breastmilk for up to 48 hours in the refrigerator or up to 3 months in the freezer.
- Remember, if you return to work, you can continue to breastfeed your baby during the hours and days you're not working. Your breasts will naturally accommodate to make less milk during your work hours and more milk when you're with your baby. If you need a place to pump and store your milk at work, talk with your employer.
- If you're worried about modesty, rest assured that there are many ways to breastfeed without exposing your breasts—with certain positions, special clothing, or a covering your baby with a shawl. You shouldn't be ashamed but instead be proud of doing something that's so good for you and your baby.
Some women are unable to breastfeed and some choose not to breastfeed. Bottlefeeding is also a healthy way to feed your baby. The formula manufacturers are developing new formulas with nutrients that are more similar to breastmilk. Here are some tips for healthy bottlefeeding:
- Ask your doctor which formula to use. There are many different options including cow's milk and soy formula. Be sure to use only iron-fortified formula—your baby needs iron to grow.
- Always follow the instructions to prepare formula properly, whether from powder, concentrate, or ready-to-serve. Be sure to use clean water, bottles and nipples.
- Don't put cereal in the bottle—it can choke your baby and increase the chance of digestive problems and food allergies.
- Don't heat the bottle in the microwave—the milk can get too hot and burn your baby. Instead, heat it under running water or in a pot of hot water. Be sure to shake it well and test the temperature of the milk before giving it to your baby.
- Always hold the bottle when you feed your baby. Don't prop the bottle or put your baby to sleep with the bottle—it can cause choking, tooth decay, and ear infections. Hold your baby closely, look at her, and talk to her lovingly when you give her the bottle.
Our parenting advice is given as suggestions only. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent or about a medical condition.