Lactation, or milk production in the breasts, begins about one to three days after a woman gives birth. Pituitary hormones stimulate milk production in response to the stimulation of the infant's suckling the nipples. At this time, based on personal preference, the mother can decide whether she would like to feed her newborn with breast milk or with bottles of store-bought baby formula. The following are some considerations mothers may want to think about when making the decision of how to feed her baby.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding
· Positive Emotional Experience
Breastfeeding can be a satisfying experience for the mother. This close physical contact with their babies reduces a mother’s stress level and lowers her risk of postpartum depression. Breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, promoting a nurturing and relaxing experience for the mother.1
· Temporarily Inhibited Ovulation
When a woman is breastfeeding, her body ceases to create the hormone necessary for ovulation (the release of an egg from the ovary). If an egg is not released, pregnancy cannot happen.2 Women who feed their babies exclusively with breast milk may cease to ovulate for several months. However, breastfeeding alone is not a reliable form of birth control. Breastfeeding, coupled with condoms or another barrier method can increase protection from another pregnancy.
· Nursing Child Receives Antibodies and Immunity-Producing Substances
Newborn babies have very immature immune systems and are less able to fight illness-causing germs. Breast milk is filled with immune molecules, called antibodies, which protect newborns by giving them immunities to many of the germs and illnesses to which the mother has been exposed. Studies have shown that babies who were exclusively breastfed got sick less often than babies who were not. The protection against illness continues even after breastfeeding ends.1
· Cheap, Reliable, and Available Source of Baby Food
A woman's breasts are always with her, so breast milk is a convenient, free source of food for her child. It is easier to utilize a consistent supply of readily available baby food than to run to the store to buy baby formula, bottles, nipples, liners and miscellaneous utensils.
· Supported by Well-Respected Institutions
Joining a long list of organizations, including the World Health Organization and UNICEF, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement that strongly supports breastfeeding. These organizations suggest that babies be breastfed for 6 months. In any case, some breastfeeding is better than none.1
· Intelligent Infants
A child's intelligence and cognitive ability has recently been linked to the length of time the child was breastfed.1 One study, which followed more than 17,000 infants from birth to 6.5 years, concluded from IQ scores and other intelligence tests that exclusive breastfeeding significantly improves cognitive development.1 This may be due to the fact that only 1/3 of the human brain is formed at birth. Humans have evolved for millions of years consuming breast milk.
· Fewer Food Allergies and Food Related Problems
Babies who are fed cow or soymilk-based formulas tend to have more allergies than babies who were exclusively breastfed.1 Babies who are exclusively breastfed also tend to have less allergy-related problems such as diarrhea, vomiting, eczema, gastrointestinal infections and respiratory infections. Breast milk has several different immunoglobulins that help to protect against allergies. One particular immunoglobulin, IgA, is found only in breast milk and prevents allergic reactions by providing a layer of protection in a baby’s intestinal track. By the time babies are 6 to 9 months old, they have begun to produce IgA on their own, but until then, breast milk is the only available source of this substance.
· Low Nutritional Quality of Store-Bought Formulas
Store-bought baby formulas may contain whey protein concentrate, soy, coconut, high-oleic safflower oils, lactose, salt, potassium chloride, magnesium chloride, zinc sulfate, copper sulfate, soy lecithin, mono and diglycerides, riboflavin, pyridoxine hydrochloride, and/or folic acid. Whey, one of the main ingredients in almost all formulas, is a waste by-product certain dairy products, particularly cheeses. Palm, coconut and safflower oils are also main ingredients, which are also used in many snack foods (such as movie theatre popcorn) and aren’t easily digested by babies. These are not natural foods, and are harder for the baby’s sensitive digestive system to handle. Breast milk is easily digested in a baby’s stomach, making it the best choice for feeding newborns.
· Reforming the Uterus
Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, a hormone that induces uterine contractions and helps the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size. Breastfeeding may also reduce uterine bleeding after birth. 1
Unlike store-bought formula, human milk is delivered without excess packaging or processing and thus contributes to the health of our planet by avoiding needless waste.
Disadvantages of Breastfeeding and Related Warnings
· Reduced Estrogen/Decreased Sexual Desire
Nursing decreases the amount of estrogen in a woman's body. Estrogen conditions and maintains vulvar tissue and promotes vaginal lubrication, and this decrease may cause nursing mothers to be less interested in sexual activity. If a woman partakes in sexual intercourse her genitals may become sore from this lack of estrogen.
· Negative Emotions About Breastfeeding
Some women may feel uncomfortable about the prospect of nursing, perhaps due to societal views on breasts as sex symbols. In some countries, breastfeeding in public is illegal or socially taboo, which can cause embarrassment for the mother.
· Demands of School or Career
Because babies digest breast milk faster than formula,breastfed babies need to eat more often. This can strain the mother, as she may find it difficult to handle the sole feeding responsibility. This is a particularly relevant issue if a woman returns to school or work shortly after giving birth. However, using a breast pump and storing your milk is a great option if you want your partner or another helper to take over some of the responsibilities of feeding. Furthermore, in many countries, breastfeeding in the workplace is supported.
· Unequal Feeding Responsibilities
Childcare responsibilities are harder to share when an infant is breastfed, since only the birth mother can nurse the baby unless she pumps and stores her breast milk for bottle use. Bottle-feeding formula allows the father, same-sex partner, or adoptive parents to play a greater role in holding, feeding, and bonding with the baby.
· Hormonal Birth Control
Women who decide to breastfeed cannot use hormonal birth control such as the pill, vaginal ring, or shot. Since estrogen-containing birth control reduces the amount of milk, affects milk quality, and can cause newborns to ingest hormones, women who breastfeed must use an alternative form of birth control.
· Cigarettes and Smoke Exposure
Cigarette smoking, as well as environmental (second-hand) smoke, reduces the amount of milk a mother produces. Mothers who are exposed to smoke generally nurse for shorter durations than mothers who live a smokeless lifestyle because their addiction is demanding.
· Breast and Nipple Pain
A woman's breasts may become tender and sore while she is breastfeeding, and some women chose to stop nursing altogether because they find it too painful. Milk may be ejected involuntarily from a woman's nipples during sexual stimulation, which can be a potentially embarrassing or bothersome occurrence.
The important decision of whether or not to breastfeed must be made by the parent(s) prior to or immediately after birth. Both the benefits and disadvantages should be considered before making this choice.
1. "How Breastfeeding Benefits You and Your Baby." BabyCenter. http://www.babycenter.com/0_how-breastfeeding-benefits-you-and-your-baby_8910.bc?page=1
2. "Breastfeeding as Birth Control: Planned Parenthood." Planned Parenthood. http://www.plannedparenthood.org/health-info/birth-control/breastfeeding
Last Updated 20 November, 2014.