Why Breast Is Best for Babies

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 14, 2011

One of the first choices a new mother will have to make is whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed her baby. Several medical organizations and child wellness groups stand by breastmilk as the best option for baby. But why is it superior over formula?

Although infant formulas are very safe, effective and convenient for families, breastmilk is still the preferred option for feeding young children, say experts. Breastmilk boasts several advantages over commercially-produced formulas and bottle-feeding.

1. Bonding: Breastfeeding provides unsurpassed bonding time between mother and infant. In the early months, babies need to know that their needs will be met and that Mom is nearby. Because infant eyesight is largely undeveloped, babies thrive through smells, sounds and touch. Breastfeeding enables the baby to be up close and personal with Mom several times each day and night.

2. Nutritional value: The human body prepares exactly what is needed to sustain life in little ones. Commercially prepared formulas come close to mimicking the components in breastmilk, but nothing beats the original.

3. Introduction to flavors: With formula, babies taste the same flavor at each and every feeding. When a woman breastfeeds, her milk often takes on the flavor of some of the foods she eats, exposing her baby to a wider palate. This can prevent picky eating down the line in some cases.

4. Immune system benefits: Pediatricians and other experts say that breastmilk contains antibodies from the mother that help a developing baby fend off common illnesses. A breastfed baby is less likely to develop ear infections and other common childhood sicknesses.

5. Other health benefits: Studies say that breastfed babies are less likely to get respiratory infections and acid reflux, experience colic or have diarrhea or constipation.

6. Cost factors: Breastmilk is essentially free, unless you purchase pumps and other accessories to facilitate the process. The average pre-mixed can of baby formula can cost between $6 and $7 for regular varieties. And because breastfed babies are less likely to get sick as frequently as other children, that means fewer trips to the doctor and fewer prescription costs.

7. Convenience: While formula products have become more convenient than ever, all that is needed to breastfeed is a baby and his mother. That means no running out in the middle of the night or sterilizing bottles when the formula supply has vanished.

8. Benefits for Mom, too: Breastfeeding can help shrink the uterus, burn calories and help a woman return to her pre-pregnancy shape more quickly. Studies also show that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of breast cancer, high blood pressure, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, and also may help decrease the risk of uterine and ovarian cancer.

Breastfeeding requires a time commitment and willingness on the part of Mom. However, not all women are able or comfortable breastfeeding. Keep in mind that formulas are nutritionally sound and can be a good alternative to breastfeeding or used as a supplement.

Most experts say that a baby should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life, and thereafter, when comfortable for Mom and baby.