Breast Milk Is Best
Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. It contains just the right amount of nutrients. It is also gentle on your baby's developing stomach, intestines, and other body systems.
Benefits of breast milk
You may know some of the reasons that breastfeeding is best for your baby. There are many reasons.
Compared with formula, the nutrients in breast milk are better absorbed and used by your baby. These include sugar (carbohydrate) and protein.
Breast milk has the nutrients that are best for your baby’s brain growth and nervous system development. Studies of breastfed babieshave found that they do better on intelligence tests when they grow older.
A breastfed baby's eyes also work better. This is mostly because of certain types of fat in breast milk.
Breast milk has many disease-fighting factors. They help prevent mild to severe infections.
Breastfed babies have far fewer digestive, lung, and ear infections.
Babies born early (premature) who are breastfed are also less likely to get a serious infection of the intestines.
If your baby gets an infection when breastfeeding, the infection is likely to be less severe.
Preventing other conditions
Breastfeeding helps protects babies from many serious health problems. And it keeps on offering protection as they get older. Breastfed babies have:
A lower risk for SIDS than babies who are not breastfed.
A lower risk of getting asthma and skin problems related to allergies. Formula-fed babies are more likely to have milk allergies.
Less diarrhea and a lowered chance of getting some digestive conditions. Formula can actually change healthy bacteria in a baby's intestines. The bacteria help with digestion and fighting disease.
Less long-term health problems as they grow up. These include diabetes and obesity.
Women who breastfeed also get many health benefits. If you breastfeed, you are more likely to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy. You are also less likely to get breast and ovarian cancer and diabetes later in life.
What is exclusive breastfeeding?
Only (exclusive) breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months of life is best for your baby. This means your baby should get only breast milk. It can be expressed and fed to your baby in a bottle, as needed.
You should not give your baby water, sugar water, formula, or solids during his or her first 6 months. Except:
Your baby’s provider may also tell you to give your baby vitamins, minerals, or medicines. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed babies get extra vitamin D. Your baby's provider will tell you about the type and amount of vitamin D you should give your baby.
Risks of not breastfeeding only
You know about many of the benefits of breastfeeding. But you might not know why it is important to breastfeed only for at least 6 months.
Your baby gets the best protection against health problems when he or she gets only breast milk. Breastfeeding some of the time is good. But breastfeeding all of the time is best.
Giving your baby formula or other liquids may make you:
Have more problems breastfeeding
Produce less milk
Be less confident in breastfeeding
Breastfeed less often
Stop breastfeeding before your baby is at least 6 months old
Who should not breastfeed only
Breastfeeding only is almost always recommended. But your health care provider may have reasons to recommend giving your baby formula or other liquids. They include:
Your baby has certain health problems. Breast milk only is usually recommended, but you may need to add formula or other liquids. For example, your baby may need this if he or she has low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), loss of body fluids (dehydration), or high levels of bilirubin.
You have or have had certain health problems. There are few reasons why you should not breastfeed your baby. Some infections can be passed from your skin to your baby's skin or through your breast milk. And some medicines, illegal drugs, and alcohol can be passed to your baby through your breast milk. For example, women with HIV, AIDS, chickenpox (varicella), or tuberculosis (TB) should not breastfeed. Women taking certain medicines or using drugs or alcohol also should not breastfeed.
- Grantham, Paula, RN, BSN
- Holloway, Beth, RN, MEd
- newMentor board-certified, academically affiliated clinician