The World Health Organisation recommends breastfeeding as the healthiest and most natural way of feeding your baby. WHO recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first six months and continue as they introduce weaning foods.
Breastfeeding is the act of feeding your baby with milk directly from your breast. You can breastfeed your baby by nursing them on a regular basis and/or by pumping your milk and storing it for your baby’s use.
Many babies do well on formula, but breastfeeding offers greater nutrition to your baby. It also has advantages for the mother, such as a reduced cancer risk.
Benefits for the baby:
- Breast milk contains antibodies, which help the baby’s immune system to form properly.
- Babies are almost never allergic to their mother’s breast milk, whereas many babies develop allergies to cow’s milk.
- Breast milk contains the correct levels of sodium, vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids and enzymes. Formula does not contain all of these; it simply has not yet replicated the components of breast milk.
- Breast fed babies tend to develop less gastrointestinal, ear, urinary tract, eye and respiratory infections during their first year of life. This is because breast milk enhances their delicate immune system.
- Breast fed babies are more likely to have better health as adults – they are less likely to have heart disease, high blood pressure or to become obese or develop diabetes.
- Breast fed babies are less likely to develop meningitis and septicaemia.
- Breast fed babies are less likely to develop food allergies.
- Breast fed babies are more likely to have higher IQs than bottlefed babies.
Benefits for the mother:
- Breastfeeding allows you to bond well with your baby.
- Breastfeeding decreases your risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
- Breastfeeding burns a significant amount of calories per day, so you may find it easier to get back to your pre pregnancy weight.
- Breastfeeding saves you a lot of money, as you won’t need to buy formula or sterilising equipment.
- Breastfeeding saves you time because you do not have to prepare bottles.
- Breastfeeding is very convenient; since it doesn’t involve sterilising bottles or measuring formula.
- Women who breastfeed are less likely to develop osteoporosis.
Breastfeeding is endorsed by the World Health Organisation, the HSE, the American Academy of Paediatrics and the UK Department of Health.
It is not the right choice for everyone, however. Women with inverted nipples may not be able to breastfeed and some women may not be able to produce enough milk, due to physical or hormonal problems. However, this is rare and most women can breastfeed if they are given advice and support. Fathers and other family cannot help with breastfeeding, which some women find off putting. Also, breastfed babies require feeding more often and this can be a source of stress.
It is important to note that women who work outside the home can also breastfeed, as working woman are legally entitled to maternity leave and can express their milk when they return to work.
If you intend to breastfeed, you should start within a few hours of giving birth, as this is when your baby’s instinct to suckle is greatest and thus you can get off to a good start.