It’s breast cancer awareness month and this month I’d like to focus on all things “breasts.” Today, let’s discuss whether breast milk or formula is best and why. The decision of how to feed your baby is a very personal one. For many pregnant women, the thought of breastfeeding their precious bundle of joy seems incredible…that is until you try it and they won’t latch, your milk supply doesn’t come in, or you experience pain. Breastfeeding can be difficult at first but it eventually becomes easy and is so rewarding for both you and your baby.
The benefits of breastfeeding are numerous and significant, but many women still choose not to for reasons all their own. Before you decide how to feed your child, take a few moments to learn about breastfeeding, then armed with information, making your choice should be easier.
Breastfeeding has two stages, colostrum, and regular milk.
Colostrum is the very first milk produced. It occurs during the first two to three days and is a thick, whitish/goldish-colored liquid. Colostrum is exactly what a new baby needs. It is low in fat and high in carbohydrates, protein, and antibodies. It is also extremely easy for the newborns’ system to digest.
One of the first things that the colostrum does is produce a laxative effect. It helps the baby to pass meconium stools, which are thick and tarry. It also helps to clear excess bilirubin and prevent jaundice. So, if a baby is born with jaundice, nursing may be helpful.
Colostrum also carries an extremely high number of both antibodies and leukocytes (protective white cells) and helps the babyís immature immune system fight off diseases, viruses, and bacteria. In effect, the colostrum super-charges the baby’s system and helps prepare him for life outside the womb.
By the third or fourth day after birth, the second stage of breastfeeding occurs. This is when the regular milk comes in. This milk is much thinner but contains all of the nutrition a baby needs to grow and thrive. Just as colostrum did, regular breast milk carries much-needed antibodies to the baby’s system, which helps to fight off illness.
Breast milk contains all of the antibodies that the mother’s body has created. As new germs are introduced into the baby’s environment, the mother’s body begins preparing antibodies to ward off those germs. These new antibodies are then passed through the breast milk to help the baby fight off the new threat. Now, this doesn’t mean that breastfed babies never get sick, but research has shown that they do typically recover more quickly than a formula-fed baby.
There are additional benefits to breastfeeding other than just the antibodies. It has been shown that breastfeeding offers protection against:
• Ear infections
• Colds and other respiratory illnesses
• Intestinal disorders
• Bacteria like staph, strep, e-coli infections
Breastfeeding also offers benefits to the mother. Long-term breastfeeding, for a cumulative total of two years or more, has been shown to reduce a mother’s chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also helps the mother to lose weight more quickly after having a baby. Because many women do not get their periods back until they stop nursing, breastfeeding also helps to naturally space out children. But, it is important to note that one should never rely solely on breastfeeding for birth control.
These are just a few of the amazing things that breast milk can do for a baby. You would think that with all this research, the decision to breastfeed would be easy. Unfortunately, one of the biggest deciding factors of whether a woman decides to breastfeed is the reaction of family members. Oftentimes the husband is uninformed on the benefits of breastfeeding and pushes the woman to wean to formula. Many mothers and grandmothers don’t support the breastfeeding woman because that’s not how it was done in their day. Many women receive dirty looks or harsh comments for discretely nursing in public. All of these factors push a new mother towards formula, despite the amazing health benefits of nursing.
The decision to breastfeed is yours. Take at least as much time to learn about breastfeeding as you did when you picked out your baby’s crib; more if you can spare it. Arm yourself with knowledge and then make a decision. Only you can decide if breastfeeding is right for your family.