The weeks and months leading up to the birth of your baby are filled with decisions. You might decide whether to return to work or stay home and if you are going back to work, who will watch your baby. You might make decisions about painting the nursery, choosing a crib and car seat. But, one of the most important decisions you will make will be whether or not you will breastfeed.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that “babies be exclusively breastfed for about the first six months of life.” If you choose to breastfeed, your baby, up until about 6 months old, doesn’t need any additional food or water. After that, you can continue to breastfeed and supplement with additional foods, depending on your child’s needs. For the first six months, your breastmilk contains all of the nutrients your baby needs.
Besides nutrition, breastfeeding provides many benefits to your baby:
It helps protect your child from stomach viruses, colds and ear infections. Babies’ immune systems are not fully developed, however, breast milk contains antibodies from you. These antibodies help protect your baby from viruses and infections. Breastfeeding has been shown to help strengthen your baby’s immune system.
It encourages the growth of “good” bacteria in the intestines. Our intestines have a large amount of bacteria, good bacteria helps in the digestion process, “bad” bacteria can cause diarrhea and other intestinal problems. Breastmilk contains prebiotics, which stimulate the growth of the good bacteria and protect your baby against diarrhea and other intestinal problems.
It might reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The AAP states that studies have shown a decreased risk of SIDS ranging anywhere from 36 percent to 50 percent, although researchers are not sure why breastfeeding would decrease the risk.
It prepares your baby for different tastes. Formula tastes the same, every time. But the taste of breastmilk can change depending on what you have eaten. This might reduce the chance of your child being a fussy eater later.
It can protect against developing illnesses and medical conditions, such as wheezing, eczema and allergies. It might also help prevent illnesses, such as diabetes, later in life. It may also help reduce the risk of developing leukemia and lymphoma.
Babies who are breastfed are less likely to be obese in adolescence and adulthood. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, children who fed with formula have a 20 to 30 percent greater chance of becoming obese.
There are psychological benefits as well. The Natural Resources Defense Council indicates that babies who are breastfed develop fewer psychological problems and are more mature, assertive and secure with themselves as they mature.
Breastfeeding was once thought of as simply a way to feed your baby. But an enormous amount of research shows that it not only provides the nutrients your baby needs, it protects from childhood illnesses and continues to protect your child for many years, maybe for the rest of their life.
Eileen Bailey is a freelance health writer. She is the author of What Went Right: Reframe Your Thinking for a Happier Now, Idiot’s Guide to Adult ADHD, Idiot’s Guide to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Essential Guide to Overcoming Obsessive Love, and Essential Guide to Asperger’s Syndrome. She can be found on Twitter @eileenmbailey and on Facebook at eileenmbailey.