Choices: How Will You Feed Your Baby?

by Pregnancy.org Staff

baby mouthing a rattleOne of the most challenging choices new parents face is how to feed rheir baby in those first months of life. No doubt you have already received enthusiastic advice from friends and family members who favor one feeding method over the other.

While this decision is entirely up to you and your partner, it is wise to get as much information as possible before you decide. Whatever method you choose, it should be based on a good understanding of infant nutritional and emotional needs and an honest assessment your own situation.

Breastfeeding is a gift mothers have given their babies since the beginning of time. It is only in this century that bottle-feeding has become a viable option for mothers, as pre-prepared formulas and specially-designed bottles have become commonly available. The result is a cultural trend toward bottle-feeding that reached its peek in the 1970s, creating a culture that was irrationally intolerant of breastfeeding. As the children of the 1970's begin to have children of their own, a major effort is underway to help them make informed decisions about the health and nurturing of their babies, even as we inform the culture to make it more supportive of nursing mothers. While bottle-feeding is an adequate source of nutrition, modern medical research has concluded that breastfeeding is vastly healthier for both mother and child.

Since breastfeeding benefits both mother and child, both medical and popular opinions favor it. Nature designed human milk to perfectly meet the needs of growing babies, and the extent of nutritional and autoimmune benefits are only just now being discovered.

The emotional benefits of breast feeding cannot be fully measured. Breast feeding also provides the most intimate way a mother can care for her child and initiates a very special and loving relationship. It is no accident that a newborn baby's eyes, which cannot focus on objects far away or near, can perfectly see his mother's face when she is ten inches from him -- the approximate distance between them when he is at the breast. Breastfeeding is a built-in time of love and attention that nurtures both mother and child. If you're beginning to think now about whether or not you'll breast feed your baby, here are some facts you need to know:

• The American Academy of Pediatrics has stated that breastmilk is the best food for infants throughout the first year of life.

• Your milk is the only food the baby needs for the first 5 to 6 months of life.

• Mother's milk is really the "perfect food". Once your breast milk supply is established, and as long as you eat well and drink plenty of fluids, this nourishment is always available.

• Moreover, breastmilk has the right amounts of all the necessary nutrients to help your baby grow.

• Mother's milk is designed to be easily digestible by a baby's immature digestive system.

• Breastmilk contains substances that may help protect babies against illness. The colostrum, a yellowish fluid that is the first milk to come from the breast, contains antibodies and other protective substances. Several studies have shown that babies who nurse have less colic and diarrhea, fewer colds and ear infections.

• Mother's milk helps to protect the baby early in life from developing allergies.

• Nursing is convenient. Your milk is always clean, at the right temperature, and ready to serve when your baby is hungry.

• Nursing is more economical, allowing you to forgo the cost of formula and bottles.

Breastfeeding has benefits for the mother, too. Not only do you have the personal satisfaction of knowing that your body continues to nourish and nurture your baby, you'll find it may help your body return to its pre-pregnancy size sooner. Sucking releases hormones that contract the uterus, helping to return it more quickly to its normal size. Also, because stores of fat that accumulated during pregnancy are used for milk production, the mother who breast feeds usually returns to her normal weight more quickly. For more benefits, read How Breastfeeding Benefits Add Up.