Breastfeeding: Why Experts Agree that Breast is Best

I am eight months pregnant with my first baby. My doctors say they advocate breastfeeding, but most of my friends have found them not to really be very supportive.

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ABOUT THE EXPERT

Debbi Donovan

Debbi Donovan is a Board Certified Lactation Consultant, as well as a retired La Leche League Leader. For more than a decade, Debbi... Read more

Much has been written extolling the benefits of breastmilk. In December 1997 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), in a policy statement on breastfeeding, Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, came out with a very strong stance on the importance of human milk, especially in the first year of a baby's life. These guidelines recommend that "breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired." This statement encourages Pediatricians and other Health Care Providers who work with nursing moms to "Promote breastfeeding as a normal part of daily life, and encourage family and societal support for breastfeeding."

"Human milk is the preferred feeding for all infants, including premature and sick newborns, with rare exceptions. Human milk is uniquely superior for infant feeding and is species-specific; all substitute feeding options differ markedly from it."

The AAP recommends that breastfeeding begin as soon as possible following the baby's birth. Any procedures that might interfere with establishing breastfeeding or could traumatize the infant should be avoided or minimized.

Newborns should be nursed whenever they show signs of hunger (including mouthing or rooting behavior or increased alertness.) Crying is a late hunger cue. Newborns typically need to nurse around 8 to 12 times a day, until satisfied.

Breastfeeding is facilitated by keeping mom and baby together both during the recovery period and while in the hospital following the birth.

Nursing infants should not be given any supplements (water, glucose water, formula, etc.) unless there is a medical indication. Supplements are rarely needed when breastfeeding is properly managed. The use of pacifiers should be avoided -- at least until breastfeeding is well established.

If either baby or mom needs to be hospitalized, "every effort should be made to maintain breastfeeding, preferably directly, or by pumping the breasts and feeding expressed breastmilk, if necessary.

Research has shown that "human milk and breastfeeding of infants provide advantages with regard to general health, growth, and development, while significantly decreasing risk for a large number of acute and chronic diseases."

Breastfed babies are less likely than their formula-fed peers to get:

  • diarrhea
  • ear infections
  • respiratory infections
  • bacteremia
  • bacterial meningitis
  • botulism
  • necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)
  • urinary tract infections

Studies show that nursing may also be protective against:

  • SIDS
  • diabetes
  • Crohn's disease
  • ulcerative colitis
  • lymphoma
  • allergies
  • chronic digestive diseases

And breastfeeding isn't just beneficial to babies:

  • Earlier, more rapid return to normal weight
  • Delay in the resumption of ovulation and increased child spacing
  • Reduced risk of developing ovarian and premenopausal breast cancer
  • Improved bone remineralization with a reduction in hip fractures in the postmenopausal period.

You might find it very helpful to speak with the doctor(s) and floor nurses prior to your baby's birth so they can be aware of your concerns.

My very best wishes for a good birth, a safe birth and a healthy start to your new baby's life!

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