Why breastfeed? Isn't formula just as good… and easier? Sadly, this is a common question for modern parents. Breastfeeding is better, and it's important to know why.
Human milk is natural and stands test of time, helping countless generations of babies to move from dependent infant into independent child. It's easily digested and most of the nutrients are absorbed by your baby – far more than the artificial nutrients in infant formulas!
Your body will thank you, too. Nursing helps your uterus move back towards its pre-pregnancy shape more quickly and completely. Powerful hormones are also released as you breast feed your baby – helping you relax and bond with your baby.
Breastmilk is Complete
Human milk has all the proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals that your baby needs. Your milk changes from day to day to suit your baby!
Your milk helps baby learn the flavors and foods you love so he/she familiar with your family's diet!
Formula (artificial baby milk) must be diluted or enriched just to turn it into something babies can use for food. The bases of these formulas are proteins that aren't meant for human babies to consume.
Human milk has cholesterol in it, which is vital for your baby's development. She needs cholesterol for growth – a low cholesterol diet is deadly for your baby. Cholesterol is crucial for your baby's brain development.
Baby also needs the healthy fats in your milk. Human milk has natural fatty acids in it – DHA and ARA. The synthetic versions of these fatty acids in formula aren't tolerated well by babies. You can safely increase these fatty acids in your milk with natural supplements.
Your milk also has lactose, an important sugar. Lactose is in just the right proportion; no other sugars need to be added as they must in artificial baby milks.
When you breastfeed your baby gets the iron in your milk. This iron is highly bio-available, meaning it's well-absorbed (your baby also has a nice iron store if cord clamping is delayed) . Formulas must add large amounts of iron because babies can't digest the iron in them well.
Your milk is calcium rich. It has vitamin D in small amounts, which your baby needs to turn the calcium into strong bones. Your baby has stores of vitamin D built up in pregnancy. She also gets vitamin D from sun exposure.
Just a few minutes of sunlight on her cheeks daily is enough for her to make the vitamin D she needs. If she has a dark complexion, she may need more sunlight. If you are rarely outside or if you wear traditional clothing that covers much of your body, you may want to ask your baby's doctor about supplementing vitamin D – a natural supplement (such as a cod liver oil for you) is probably best.
Generally you don't want to supplement your baby – dropping an artificial supplement into your baby's mouth can upset the balance of baby's body.
Breastfeeding Continues Your Special Bond
You and your baby have an intimate connection that began as soon as you realized you were pregnant. It grew as your baby grew within you and you marveled at the little person kicking you.
Your baby wants you! Your arms, your breasts, and your warm milk make her happy. Nursing and keeping your baby close helps you gain confidence as a mother.
Experts such as Dr. William Sears observe that mothers who breastfeed their babies are more “in tune” with the needs of their infants. Nursing is a natural extension of pregnancy and birth, and good mothering builds out of the bond you have with your baby.
Even if you and your baby don't have the start that you've been dreaming of because of a premature or surgical birth (or perhaps an extended hospital stay), you can still enjoy the benefits of a breastfeeding relationship. You'll also benefit from the mothering intuition that develops as you breastfeed.
Breastfeeding Protects Your Baby
Your milk gives your baby amazing protection against illness. This protection begins with your colostrum in the first few days after birth and continues as long as you breastfeed.
Study after study proves that breastfed babies get sick less often!
Your milk sends antibodies to your baby. Secretory immunoglobulin, or sIgA, is the most well know of these antibodies. It protects your baby's mucous membranes; these line much of her digestive track as well as much of her respiratory system. This protection is vitally important to your baby and covers the most sensitive areas of her body.
Your body produces antibodies specifically for your environment. When you're exposed to germs your body reacts with antibodies. These antibodies are sent right through your milk to your baby!
If your baby picks up a germ and gives it to you (perhaps through nursing), your body makes an antibody and sends it right back to her!
Human milk gives babies protection against illness. Breastfed babies have fewer infections than babies given formulas. Breastfed babies also have higher resistance against chronic illnesses, including type 1 and 2 diabetes.
There's evidence that breastfed babies have increased protection from SIDS.
Breastfeeding your baby gives her protection from allergies. Delaying her exposure to common allergens (such as cow's milk and soy found in infant formulas) gives her the time she needs to mature so that allergies don't develop.
Sometimes breastfed babies still develop allergies, particularly if there is a strong family history of allergies. Even then, your milk does wonders for your baby! You're able to give her the benefit of your nutritious milk. You have peace of mind knowing she's being well-nourished while you slowly introduce foods. You can also feel more confident leaving allergenic foods out of her diet because she has your milk.
Breastfeeding Gives Your Baby a Smart Start
Studies show that breastfeeding enhances cognitive (brain) development. Breastfed children show higher scores on intelligence testing. These tests show differences even in seven and eight year old children. Many factors come into play in intelligence, but you can be sure that your milk is designed to help your baby's mind develop optimally.
Your milk also benefits your baby in other ways. It helps her face and jaw to develop properly. It gives her added protection from obesity in later life. It also provides her with pain relief. Besides all these benefits, breastfeeding your baby helps to forge a close bond between the two of you. It's a beautiful relationship.
Breastfeeding Saves Lives in Emergencies
If you and your baby should ever encounter an emergency situation, your milk is gold. Even if the power is out and the water is not running, your milk will be there for your baby. Even if you're lost in the woods or stranded in your car, your milk will be there for your baby. Nursing is truly a wonderful thing. Read Christine's story to see how breastfeeding saved her baby during a natural disaster.
Breastfeeding is Wonderful
Nursing your baby is a great experience. It's relaxing and enjoyable to take time out of your busy day to sit and be with your baby. You get to interact with her. And you get the chance to catch up on some reading when baby drifts off to sleep. Or, of course, you can just enjoy looking at your precious little one 😉
Want step-by-step tips and natural techniques for nursing your baby? Click Here for our 7 Steps to a Great Latch quick-reference guide and our How to Boost Milk Supply Naturally report (plus get our email mini-course on natural baby health, conscious parenting, and enjoying motherhood!). Opens in a new tab 😉
Photo by Leigh Blackall