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The benefits of breastfeeding

Your baby will be here before you know it. So if you haven't already done so, you'll want to plan for your little one's care and feeding, and decide whether you'll be breastfeeding your baby.

Check out some reasons to choose this original superfood for you and your little one.

The perfect amount of nutrients

Breast milk contains just the right amount of protein, fat and sugar for your baby. Plus, it's easy for your baby to digest because the nutrients are better absorbed than those found in formula.

Breast milk also has antibodies and other substances that protect your baby from health problems, such as:

  • Ear infections.
  • Allergies.
  • Vomiting.
  • Diarrhea.
  • Urinary tract infections.
  • Pneumonia.
  • Meningitis.

Plus, breast milk requires no preparation, which is a win-win for late night feedings. It also saves you the expense of formula. And you always have it with you.

Health benefits for moms

Breastfeeding does more than nurture your baby. You and your baby can enjoy physical contact, warmth and closeness. This all helps create that special mother-child bond when you breastfeed.

But it's also your body that stands to benefit from breastfeeding your baby. The process of nursing may:

  • Help you get back to your normal weight.
  • Reduce the risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
  • Help your uterus return to its usual size.

The longer you are able to nurse your baby, the better it is for both of you. Breastfeeding for a year or more is ideal, says the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.

More goodness in store?

Researchers continue to explore the ways breast milk helps babies. For example, studies suggest that breast milk may help prevent obesity. Breast-fed babies also put on weight more slowly than formula-fed babies do.

Working through challenges

Breastfeeding can be challenging for new moms. Because breast milk is digested more quickly than formula, babies have to be fed more often. You have to be awake and ready to breastfeed when your baby is hungry. And that can be very tiring.

Breastfeeding can also limit how much other family members can help you feed the baby. But they can help out by changing your baby's diapers and doing other tasks. You may also choose to express milk into a bottle. That way your partner or other family members can feed the baby.

You can express milk manually. Or you can use a breast pump. If you need to return to work, you can store your breast milk in the refrigerator for your baby to eat when you can't be there.

Breastfeeding moms also have to watch what they eat. Some foods, such as cow's milk, can upset some babies' stomachs and make them fussy. Your doctor can help you figure out what foods may be a problem for your baby.

Coming to a decision

Of course, you may choose not to breastfeed for personal or medical reasons. Bottle-feeding your baby formula is just fine and will still let you establish a close relationship at feeding time.

Even though it doesn't have the antibodies that breast milk does, formula gives baby the nutrition they need. And you still provide them with physical contact and comfort.

If you do end up choosing formula, the American Academy of Pediatrics says mothers should use iron-fortified formulas. This mineral is important for normal growth and development.

More pregnancy news

Deciding whether or not you'll breastfeed your baby isn't the only decision you need to make in the coming weeks. Check out these tips for choosing a provider for your baby.

Additional sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; Office on Women's Health; U.S. Department of Agriculture

Reviewed 1/29/2024

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