Knowing the pros and cons of breastfeeding can help parents make informed choices about this important part of early parenthood.
Breastfeeding offers numerous benefits to both a baby and their mother, including strengthening the physical and emotional bond between them. However, like any parenting decision, breastfeeding comes with its own set of challenges and limitations.
Why do some people choose to breastfeed?
Choosing to breastfeed a child is not only a special way to bond, but it can help ensure a newborn receives optimal nutrition. While breastfeeding is a personal choice, a lot of evidence indicates it’s a healthy decision for both children and women who breastfeed.
According to the WHO, establishing exclusive breastfeeding helps young children grow, prevents undernutrition, promotes brain development and reduces the risk of childhood obesity. Breastfeeding is also a newborn’s first vaccine, providing vital antibodies and boosting immunity. Overall, the benefits of breastfeeding are plenty.
What are the postpartum health benefits of breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding has multiple postpartum health benefits, including:
- A decreased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer, as well as a lower incidence of osteoporosis later in life.
- Faster recovery from childbirth. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which helps your uterus contract after delivery. This helps your uterus return to its normal size and reduces the amount of vaginal bleeding after delivery.
How long should you breastfeed?
According to health organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the World Health Organization (WHO), babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of their lives, with continued breastfeeding along with introducing solid foods for up to 2 years of age or older.
Who shouldn’t breastfeed?
If your baby has low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or is dehydrated, your doctor may recommend adding formula feeding or other liquids. Also, if you are on certain medications or using drugs or alcohol, you shouldn’t breastfeed. Additionally, some infections can be passed from breast milk to your baby, so be sure to check with your provider.
What are the disadvantages of breastfeeding?
For some people breastfeeding doesn’t come naturally and can be a challenging process. Low milk supply, latching issues and sore nipples are very common issues faced in the early days of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding is time-consuming, especially in the first few months when infants feed frequently. Mothers might feel tied to their baby’s feeding schedule, which can limit their ability to engage in other activities or rest. The constant demand of breastfed babies can also be exhausting, affecting the mother’s sleep patterns.
Additionally, with breastfeeding being a uniquely maternal role, it can inadvertently exclude partners or other family members from the feeding process. This may lead to feelings of helplessness and a sense of disconnection in the non-breastfeeding parent or caregiver.
And finally, breastfeeding mothers need to be cautious about their diet, as certain foods and beverages can affect the baby through breast milk.
Is it better to breastfeed or use formula?
Health experts recommend breastfeeding as the healthiest option for a baby because it provides the best health benefits for them. Breast milk contains just the right amounts of protein, carbohydrates and fat. And as your baby grows, the nutrients in breast milk adapt to their changing needs. Breast milk also gives your baby the minerals, digestive enzymes, hormones and vitamins they need. Another benefit is your baby gets antibodies and an improved immune system that helps resist certain infections.
However, formula is still a healthy option to feed your baby. Formulas are developed to mimic breast milk and contain similar nutrients to ensure your baby is getting the nutrition they need. Formulas can sometimes be a better option for infants who have milk protein allergy, because they can be made lactose-free. Formulas may also work better for infants with reflux by switching to a different formula or trying hypoallergenic formula.
But what if I can’t or don’t want to breastfeed?
That is OK! Many factors can prevent you from breastfeeding exclusively or at all. If you are unable to breastfeed or you don’t want to, you aren’t alone. Be sure to talk to your baby’s pediatrician to figure out which formula is best for them.
If you are a nursing mother but have a low milk supply, be sure to talk to a lactation consultant. They are certified health professionals who specialize in breastfeeding and can help you overcome challenges that might prevent you from breastfeeding.
Formula is still a healthy choice and your bottle-fed baby will still get all the nutrients they need.
The benefits of using formula are:
- Anyone can help feed your baby, including your spouse, grandparents and babysitters.
- You may be able to feed less often, as the formula is digested slower so you might have fewer feeding times.
- You can get round-the-clock help. Your partner can help with nighttime feedings so you can get better rest. This will also help your partner create a bond with your baby.
At the end of the day, breastfeeding is a personal and complex decision that each family must make based on their unique circumstances, lifestyle and preferences. And now that you know more about the pros and cons of breastfeeding, hopefully you can make the best choice for you.
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