Why should I breastfeed?

I keep hearing that I should breastfeed my baby. I’m considering it but wonder why breastfeeding matters.

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Breastfeeding is important for both you and your baby. Mother’s milk has nutrients and components not found in any baby formula (breast milk substitute) that protect against diseases. The more of your milk your baby receives, the more your baby is protected and the greater the reduction of risk of many illnesses including ear infections, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal disorders and even certain types of childhood cancers. Studies have shown that babies fed with mother’s milk have higher IQs and score higher on cognitive tests. Interestingly, the more milk they received, the higher the scores. This means any amount of breastfeeding is beneficial, but the more the better!

Breastfeeding mothers also enjoy important health benefits. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of premenopausal breast cancer. (Breastfeeding mothers who find a persistent lump should consult with their physician.) The early feedings reduce the risk of excessive bleeding after childbirth and shrink the uterus faster. The extra weight women gain during pregnancy is more easily shed, especially between three and six months after childbirth when babies drink the greatest volume of milk before starting solids.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has written many statements in support of breastfeeding. This association of doctors recommends that women breastfeed for at least 12 months. In their most recent statement, published in 1997 in Pediatrics, a medical journal for physicians, pediatricians were asked to play a more active role in supporting women in their choice to breastfeed. It’s nice to know that health professionals have been called upon to help achieve this important goal.

Many women are surprised by how much they enjoy breastfeeding. They don’t have to prepare late-night bottles or transport bottles and formula when traveling with their baby. They avoid the expense of baby formula and the medical expenses incurred when babies are not breastfed. Breastfeeding women enjoy a special closeness with their babies. Babies also like the special closeness.

Some women are afraid to choose breastfeeding because they lack confidence or worry it will be too difficult. Many women have learned more about bottle-feeding when growing up, so initially breastfeeding can seem the more difficult choice. But if you learn about breastfeeding and observe other nursing mothers, it can be easy for you from the beginning.

Read some firsthand accounts of breastfeeding mothers in What Mothers Who Breastfeed Have to Say.

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