You’ve heard it all over the place: breastfeeding is best for your baby. I’m going to disagree. Breastfeeding is the NORMAL way for babies to be nurtured and nourished. Here’s why.
- It’s the normal diet of newborns. All substitutes for mother’s milk are simply imitations of the original. But when you try to imitate something – don’t you want the perfect example to start with? That’s hard when it comes to mother’s milk. Why? Because every mother’s milk is custom-made for her individual baby! And it changes according to the baby’s needs, age and environment. Breast milk composition is affected by direct breastfeeding. That’s because the mother’s breast vacuums up little bits of the baby’s saliva which contains information about baby’s system. The mother’s antibody manufacturing system then creates what baby needs and drops it back into mother’s milk for the next feedings. Breast milk is dynamic – not a static substance. As the baby gets older, content changes also with more fat for older babies who tend to spend less time at the breast and need their meal to be “on the go”.
- It’s the normal function of breasts. Breasts were designed to make milk. A mother stores some fats during pregnancy that are meant to provide nutrition for the coming baby. These fats are moved out of mom’s body during breastfeeding. Breast milk proteins, sugars, vitamins and minerals are consistent. Mother’s body produces the right type of milk for the baby – even when her diet varies! Failure to breastfeed may result in retained pregnancy weight. Mothers who do not breastfeed are at higher risk of metabolic syndrome, Type 2 diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer, etc. This is an area of research that has only just begun.
- It’s the normal location of babies. Babies are not just fed at the breasts. They learn to enjoy closeness to another human being. They listen to mother’s voice, hear her heartbeat as they did in the womb, and associate the feeding experience with comfort and security. Held close to mom, they observe the world and its newness in a safe location. Skin to skin care (the kind that happens naturally in natural breastfeeding) allows baby to use his energy resources for feeding as mother supplies warmth and support through her body. Not only that, but the mom’s skin transfers healthy bacteria to baby’s skin which forms a first-line defense against stranger bacteria. This benefit has been identified as one factor in reducing allergies and asthma in later life. This is important for all babies, but particularly those who have been born by Cesarean section or separated from their moms at birth for medical care.
- It requires a minimal amount of financial resources. Breastfeeding is less expensive. The extra food mom requires to breastfeed is much cheaper than buying formula. Even if moms need help learning and getting through rough patches in the beginning, the cost of formula is not declining. And there are hidden costs of formula that do not occur with breastfeeding – such as bottles and cleaning utensils, energy for water and cleaning, use of materials for making formula and bottles etc. Someone pays somewhere – whether it be through working a job to earn the money or through tax money supporting the “free” formula available through WIC programs. A standard-sized container of powdered formula will last about 1/2 a week and may cost up to $30. Babies under 2 months should only be given ready-to-feed formula because of the chance of contamination of powdered formulas. This is even more expensive. Babies who are breastfed have fewer infections and this also results in fewer doctor visits with co-pays, etc.
- It provides baby with a normal immune system. More and more research is being done to link “gut” health and overall health. Breast milk provides epigenetic factors that help a baby recognize what is “normal” and what is not. This helps reduce allergies, asthma, and many other auto-immune diseases as well as providing protection from casual infections in the baby’s environment. It is now believed that continued breastfeeding while introducing family foods during the second half of the first year helps to reduce the incidence of food allergies. In addition, when babies who are breastfeeding receive their immunizations, the breast milk helps baby’s immune system have improved results from the immunizations. IQ, dental health and many other factors in a baby’s general health are affected by breastfeeding. When breastfeeding continues through toddler-hood, maximum benefits of breastfeeding are extended.
In summary, breastfeeding is the normal way by which babies move from the world of the womb where they are protected and fed by the placenta. As baby grows, he moves from being a totally dependent individual to an independently functioning individual. Breastfeeding provides that first step that takes this new little human being from the womb to the world.