Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to protect your baby’s health and yours too.
For most babies, breast milk is the ideal food. It provides all the nutrients they need and is easy for them to digest. Breast milk helps to build and support a baby's immune system because it contains the mother’s antibodies, which can fight infection, says clinical nurse specialist Carolyn Migliore, RN. “Six months of exclusive breast milk whether it’s straight from the breast or a bottle, increases a baby’s immune system, and diminishes the risk of asthma, allergies, upper respiratory, and ear infections,” Migliore says.
Breastfed babies are less likely than formula-fed babies to suffer from obesity, type 1 diabetes, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); have urinary tract infections, pneumonia, necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC) if they’re preterm, or certain types of meningitis; or, experience vomiting, diarrhea or other stomach bugs. In addition, breast milk cuts the risk of childhood leukemia, lymphoma, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Breastfed babies also have higher IQs than those who receive formula, Migliore says.
Breastfeeding benefits moms too. It reduces their risk of breast and ovarian cancer, adult onset (type 2) diabetes, and osteoporosis. It also helps the uterus contract and resume it’s prepregnant state faster. “Moms get extra to eat and lose weight. So, it’s a great weight-loss diet,” Migliore says. “And it’s cost efficient.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that you start breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, usually within the first hour, and continue while introducing solid foods, like cereals, fruits, and vegetables, until your baby is 12 months old or older. Thereafter, you can breastfeed for as long as you and your baby want.
How will you know if your baby is getting enough milk? Migliore suggests, among other things, taking a daily dirty diaper count. “Is the baby urinating and stooling enough? Does the baby seem content after a feeding and remain so for an hour or two? And is the baby gaining weight? Those are the parameters that indicate whether a baby is getting enough food from its mom,” she says, while offering these additional breastfeeding tips:
Following these tips will give your body the support it needs to nurse and your baby a healthy start, Migliore says. “Breast milk is a complete nutrition source specifically designed for each individual baby. It is completely natural. You cannot duplicate that.”