What are some of the scientifically recognized benefits of breastfeeding?
1. Breastmilk has biological specificity. No two mothers make the same milk. Your milk is custom designed for your baby. The specific need for human babies is for brain growth. Human milk evolved to contain nutrients that promote brain growth. Breastfed infants score an average of 8.3 points higher on IQ tests administered at age seven to 8.5; the studies show that the more human breastmilk they received, the higher the IQ.
2. Human breastmilk is structured so that the baby’s body can totally utilize it - little is wasted. Contrast the bowel movements of breastfed and formula-fed infants. Formula- fed infants expel more smelly, solid waste. Their bodies are not able to fully utilize all the ingredients of the formula.
3. Protection against disease. Breastmilk contains white blood cells which destroy harmful bacteria in the baby’s intestines, and antibodies which kill germs and increase the baby’s immunity. Colostrum, the first milk your baby receives, contains the highest levels of these protectants.
4. Colostrum protects the baby’s immature digestive tract. When a baby is born, his digestive tract is sterile. It contains no bacteria at all, and the walls of the intestines let virtually anything through into the bloodstream. This condition sets the child up for potential allergies, because foreign substances which pass into the bloodstream get targeted by the immune system, and the infant’s body begins to manufacture antibodies against that substance. In other words, many of the ingredients in infant formula which are not present in breastmilk pass directly into the baby’s blood stream and cause him to produce antibodies. Whenever those substances are introduced into his body again, he will develop an allergic reaction based upon the antibodies in his blood. Colostrum coats the lining of the intestines, which helps prevent foreign substances from passing through the intestinal walls into the blood stream.
5. Women who breastfeed have a lower incidence of breast cancer.
6. Breastfeeding helps Mom get back in shape after pregnancy. Part of the fat layer which pregnant women put on is specifically for the purpose of supporting lactation after pregnancy. If you don’t breastfeed, that fat doesn't come off as easily.
7. Breastfeeding releases the hormone prolactin into the mother’s system, which is a natural relaxant.
8. Breastmilk contains epidermal growth factors (EGF) which enhance the growth of these cells in the lining of the intestinal tract.
9. Breastfed babies are well-disciplined. According to Dr. William Sears, Pediatrician and attachment parenting expert, “A baby who is on the receiving end of nature’s best nurturing learns trust, and the right feeling that goes with it. The mutual sensitivity that both members of the breastfeeding pair have for each other helps both behave better.”
10. Breastfeeding encourages proper facial and dental development.
11. Mother’s milk contains beta-lactose, which favors the growth of acidophilus and bifidus bacteria, break down carbohydrates, inhibit growth of yeast, help form natural antibiotics and anti-carcinogins, and produce some of the B vitamins. Cow’s milk (and cow’s milk formulas), contain alpha-lactose, which does not promote these beneficial effects.
12. Because breastmilk is so easily digested, breastfed babies wake up more frequently at night. This frequent night waking is extremely beneficial for both health reasons and developmental reasons. Babies wake up because they are easily aroused from light sleep. This light sleep state makes it easier to communicate their survival needs. When baby needs to eat, needs warmth, or needs you to remove breathing obstructions, he will be able to easily wake up and let you know something is wrong. Also, babies’ brains grow rapidly during the first year of life. During light sleep states, babies’ higher brain functions remain “turned on” whereas during deep sleep they are switched off and only the lower brain functions remain in operation. The more time a baby spends in light sleep, the better the brain development of higher brain functions should be. When babies spend more time in light sleep, or REM, they are also more likely to awaken frequently. When babies are formula-fed, this alters their sleep behavior so that they do not spend as much time in light sleep.
13. Breastfeeding is easier than bottle-feeding: no water to boil, no bottles to sterilize, no formula to buy, no warming before baby can drink it, no refrigeration required, no need to listen to baby cry while bottle is prepared, no chance that it will be too hot.
There is no human formula that will ever be made that is as healthy as breastmilk. There is no way of feeding a baby which promotes attachment as well.
Many people cannot understand this statement. They say, “I don’t know why you say that bottle-feeding isn’t as good as breastfeeding. The baby doesn’t know the difference. He only knows he was hungry, and now he’s full. Even though he doesn’t know the difference between formula and breastmilk, he knows that Mom met his needs. That’s all that matters. He’s still being held, still being touched, still looking into the eyes of the person who’s feeding him. The bottle doesn’t really make that much difference.”
I’m sorry, but I can’t agree with any of the above statements. First of all, babies definitely know the difference between breastmilk and formula. They smell differently, taste differently, and babies feel differently after drinking them. Babies who are formula-fed have more digestive upsets, more constipation, and more ear infections and allergies. Breastfed babies definitely have more of a feeling of well-being simply because they don’t have these digestive upsets.
Secondly, there is a whole sensory experience that goes along with breastfeeding which is lacking in the bottle-feeding experience. Babies who breastfeed are skin-to-skin with their mothers, and there are many benefits of skin-to-skin contact and which are desperately needed. It is a fact that breastfed babies spend more time in mothers’ arms. How often have I seen babies lying in cribs or infant carriers with bottles propped up on pillows so Mom could do something else while baby eats. Because breastfed babies are held more, they get more eye contact. When a mother breastfeeds, this is a deeply intimate experience. She drinks in her baby with her eyes as the baby drinks in her milk. There is a connection there, as if they are one. There is a distance between the bottle-fed baby and the mother, one that can’t be avoided. When I have shown pictures of nursing mothers and bottle-feeding mothers to people and asked them which mother “looks” more nurturing, the majority identify the nursing mother. When asked why, they say things like, “She’s caressing her child while she feeds it,” “She is cradling the child in a caring way,” “The child seems to be part of her,” and “There is a contentment on both their faces.” Bottle-feeding mothers hold their babies differently. The baby lies on the mother’s lap with more space between them and in a more open position. Baby is able to flail his arms and legs around more in space, and the experience is one of separateness from the one feeding him. The breastfed baby is often held in such a way that his body is wrapped around his mother’s body, and pressed tightly or firmly against it. His experience is one of closeness, of being part of a whole. It is often difficult for adults to understand how these subtle differences can be important. To the infant, every physical experience has an emotional experience attached to it. Though these experiences may seem insignificant to us, they hold deep meaning for the infant, and if repeated frequently, constitute a kind of conditioning which form the infant’s beliefs about himself and those who care for him.
Sometimes mothers will say to me, “Well, I’m going to bottle-feed my baby, but I’m going to do all the things that breastfeeding mothers do. I’m going to hold the baby close, look into his eyes, caress him, and then it will be the same.” If you’re going to do all that, why not just breastfeed? Why this resistance to the actual act of doing it? Why try to camouflage bottle-feeding and dress it up to look like breastfeeding? Why not just do the real thing?
Just because there are other options today does not mean that they are best. I hope that you will consider the benefits of breastfeeding and make the choice to give your child the very best.
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