The cover page of an international magazine recently featured a mother who still breastfeeds her five-year-old son. That may be taking it too far according to some people, but maybe she’s trying to stretch it out for as long as she can to give her son the various advantages of breastfeeding.
Everyone knows that breastfeeding is good for the baby and the mother. But what exactly is it that makes breastfeeding a better option than formula? Why is it so important to breastfeed your baby especially in the initial months? Can you do without breastfeeding at all? Here are some of the known advantages of breastfeeding that doctors and mothers across the world will wholeheartedly attest to.
Protects your baby in infancy and through life
Newborn babies are very vulnerable to illness because their immune systems are not fully developed. Babies thus do not have the tools to protect them against germs. Fortunately, nature provides for the baby through the mother’s breast milk. Right after birth, the breast’s produce thick, yellowish milk – the first breast milk – which is commonly called colostrum or liquid gold. Why this ambitious moniker? For one, colostrum is extremely rich in nutrition, but it also contains a number of antibodies which equip your baby’s tiny and vulnerable immune system with everything it needs to fight off illness. Colostrum continues to be produced and delivered to the baby in smaller amounts as you go on breastfeeding. Breastfeeding protects your baby from common baby illnesses like colic, allergies, diarrhoea, constipation, vomiting, the common cold and even infections.
That is the most crucial function of breast milk for the baby. However, the benefits of breastfeeding extend right into adulthood. Research has shown that adults who were breastfed as babies do indeed have better immune systems and are also somehow at lower risk of several diseases like asthma, diabetes and obesity. Adults who were breastfed for more than 6 months had more protection, those who were breastfed for over a year even more so.
Easy on your baby’s digestive system
Breast milk is the only food on the planet which is designed purely for a newborn baby’s digestive system. This means fewer problems with digestion, which in turn results in fewer cases of diarrhoea, constipation and vomiting as compared to babies who are fed formula and baby food. You also do not have to worry about allergies.
Breast milk changes with your baby’s needs
You may think that as your baby grows, she needs more nutrition than breast milk can provide and that may be the main reason you want to quit breastfeeding and switch to formula or baby foods. The truth is that breast milk itself changes to accommodate the needs of your growing baby. So the milk produced when your baby is a few days old is far different from that produced when she is 8 months old.
Forges emotional bonds between mother and baby
For all the advantages of breast feeding, the most important one is how it builds an emotional connection between the mother and the newborn. The very act of breastfeeding creates a sense of protection and tenderness in the mother while developing feelings of trust and comfort in the baby.
The emotional connection forged by breastfeeding can play an important role in alleviating post-partum depression.
May lower cancer risk
Although researchers are not yet sure why, breastfeeding has been found to reduce risk of cancer in the mother as well as the risk of breast cancer in the baby.
If you‘re struggling with baby weight after delivery, you may be interested in this one. Breastfeeding burns about 500 calories per day! That’s way more than 40 minutes on the treadmill. What a way to get your pre-baby body back.
Saves you money
As new parents, you already have enough expenses eating right through your earnings every month. If you plan to quit breastfeeding, you have to spend money on formula, baby food, bottles, sterilizers and all sorts of paraphernalia just to feed your baby. Breastfeeding is more economical and more convenient in this regard. It’s totally free, and when you have to wake up for 3 am feedings, you won’t have to stumble sleepily into the kitchen to prepare formula.
So what about being able to do without breastfeeding? Well, in the first six months of your baby’s life, breast milk is the only food that will give her the protection and nutrition she needs during that vulnerable time. After that period, the decision to breastfeed is entirely up to you. If you are thinking of not breastfeeding at all and getting a wet nurse instead, then you’ll be missing out on the emotional advantages of breastfeeding. Before you make your decision, ask yourself – if you have the power to offer your baby a lifetime of protection against ill health, why wouldn’t you do it?