Both breast milk and commercial formulas are nutritionally sound, although breast milk is best for your baby. Breast milk has everything your baby needs in correct proportions — water, protein, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and minerals. It's also "living tissue" that provides many protective factors to keep your newborn healthy.
Even if you only breastfeed for a few weeks, breastfeeding is good for you and your baby. The longer you breast-feed your infant, the greater the benefits for you both.
Breastfeeding has a significant health impact for the mother, as there are many physical and emotional benefits. There are socioeconomic benefits for the family as well.
Some of these benefits include:
- Faster recovery. The stimulation of the breast by the infant within one hour of the delivery releases a hormone that contracts the uterus and helps to reduce bleeding. This enables your uterus to return to its normal size much faster.
- Feelings of well-being. The hormones released during lactation help you to feel happy, relaxed and maternal.
- Higher self-esteem. Breastfeeding can be an empowering experience for women. Your self esteem likely will increase when you realize that you are doing something for your baby that no one else can do. This may give you more positive self-talk that can help you get through the challenging days and nights of caring for a baby.
- Faster postpartum weight loss. While breastfeeding, your body uses lots of energy and you will return to your pre-pregnancy size more rapidly. You can worry less about consuming calories and fat at this time.
- Lower rate of cancer. Among women who breastfeed, there is a lower incidence of certain cancers: breast, uterine, ovarian and endometrial. This is an important benefit, especially if there is a history of these cancers in your family. The longer you nurse, the better the protection. This is related to lower levels of estrogen in your body at this time.
- Less insulin. If you need insulin to control diabetes, you will require less insulin postpartum.
- Lower cost. Breastfeeding costs less than formula-feeding, as you will not need to buy formula and you will need only a few bottles and nipples (for those times when you can't nurse your baby). The yearly cost of using ready-made formula is about $4,000 a year, not including accessories such as bottles. The cost of using powder formula is about $1,500 per year. If you return to work while still breastfeeding your infant, you will miss fewer days of work because your baby will be sick less often. This is because of the infection-fighting quality of the breast milk.
- Lower risk of osteoporosis. Studies have shown that breastfeeding increases bone density, therefore reducing the risk of osteoporosis in older women.
- Less waste of natural resources. When you breastfeed, you need fewer items that are used and then discarded, such as cans from formula, rubber from nipples, water from washing bottles, etc.
The benefits to the infant are numerous and include:
- Lower risk of infections and medical conditions. The infant who is breast-fed may be at less risk of the following infections and diseases: diarrhea; influenza; ear infections; respiratory infections, including respiratory syncytial virus (bronchiolitis); asthma; allergy; eczema; herpes simplex; sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS); obesity; AIDS; multiple sclerosis; inguinal hernia; undescended testicle; reflux or gastroesophageal reflux disease; diabetes; oral malocclusion; childhood cancers; Crohn's disease; Hodgkin's disease; urinary-tract infections; and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
- Better vaccine protection. Breast-fed infants have a higher vaccine response to the immunizations that they are given. They develop higher antibody levels to protect against these infections.
- Higher intelligence. Components of breast milk encourage optimal brain development.
- Better oral development. Breastfeeding enhances your baby's jaw and oral development.
- Higher oxygenation and temperature. Breast-fed babies maintain higher levels of oxygenation and warmer body temperature while feeding than do bottle-fed infants. The baby is in control of the flow of milk when breastfeeding so he does not have to struggle to keep his airway open, as might happen when milk flows freely from a bottle and fills up the mouth. Easier breathing means more oxygen gets into the blood, which enhances development. When you breastfeed, your baby is next to or on your warm body, helping him to stay warm. This is especially important in the early time of the baby's life when he has difficulty maintaining his temperature.
- Baby-led feeding. A breast-fed baby is controlling the feeding and tends to feed when he wants and for as long as he wants. This helps to maintain your milk supply. In response to stimulation of the breasts, hormones are released that tell the breasts to make milk. If the baby asks for more, your body will make more. Self-control of feeding also may help to establish better eating habits later in life.
- Less waste. Your baby's body rapidly digests breast milk, absorbing more nutrients. After the first few weeks, breast-fed babies often have fewer, less frequent stools.