Breast milk is the best possible food for any baby. All major medical groups worldwide recommend exclusive breastfeeding for about the first six months after birth. After introducing complementary solid foods, breastfeeding should continue for at least the first year after birth, or beyond, if the mother and baby desire.
Breast milk ingredients are adequately balanced and enhanced to protect against acute (i.e., short duration) conditions such as ear infections, respiratory diseases (including pneumonia), and gastrointestinal infections that cause vomiting and diarrhea. Compared to formula-fed babies, breastfed babies have lower rates of bacterial meningitis, allergic reactions, sudden infant death syndrome, and certain kinds of cancer such as leukemia and lymphoma. It also plays an essential role in preventing obesity and diabetes, both in childhood and later on. Formulas only approximate the valuable nutrients in breast milk and do not provide all the antibodies, enzymes, and growth-promoting factors. The longer the baby is breastfed, the greater the benefits.
For mothers, breastfeeding helps to return to pre-pregnancy weight, prevents diabetes, reduces the incidence of breast and ovarian cancer, and helps the uterus tighten and return to its normal size more quickly. The emotional advantages of breastfeeding are just as compelling since skin-to-skin contact enhances bonding and releases feel-good hormones. Besides, there are many practical reasons to breastfeed: it needs no preparation, it is instantly available, and it is relatively low in cost.
It is essential to thoughtfully consider the many benefits of breastfeeding before choosing formula-feed since starting with formula and then switching to breastmilk can be difficult. The ideal is to begin breastfeeding as soon as possible after birth, usually within the first hour. With support, most mothers can successfully breastfeed their newborns. In case of any doubts, concerns, or fears, you should not hesitate to call your pediatrician or lactation consultant. Do not forget to read our Breastfeeding FAQ section here.
Estefanía Henríquez Luthje, MD