by Nancy Mohrbacher, IBCLC
How long should you breastfeed your baby? Only you and your baby will know for sure. Even if you breastfeed for just a few days, your baby will receive invaluable protection from infection. The health effects of breastfeeding accrue over time, so the longer you breastfeed, the better for your baby. Breastfeeding offers you benefits, too. The following information may help you decide:
You will also benefit from these early breastfeeding days. Breastfeeding helps a mother's body recover more quickly from childbirth by releasing hormones that contract the uterus and prevent excess bleeding. Breastfeeding is also a wonderful way to bring mother and baby closer while they're getting to know each other.
Breastfeeding guarantees lots of holding and touching. The "mothering hormone," prolactin, is produced every time you nurse, relaxing you and helping you and your baby form a special bond. One study showed that at one month, breastfeeding mothers were less anxious and felt closer to their babies.
Breastfeeding saves money. Powdered, liquid concentrate, and ready-to-feed formulas vary in price, and depending on how much of each is used, breastfeeding for one month may save between $75 and $180, not counting bottles, artificial nipples, and other feeding paraphernalia. Special formulas for allergic babies cost at least two to three time more than regular formula.
Breastfeeding makes it easier for mothers to shed the extra pounds put on during pregnancy, and naturally mobilizes fat stores, even fat accumulated before pregnancy. In one study, breastfeeding mothers lost more weight when their babies were three to six months old than formula feeding mothers consuming fewer calories.
You will find that breastfeeding simplifies life with a baby, no matter what his age. Time isn't diverted to the preparation of formula, and you can leave home without bringing bottles. Human milk does not stain, is not constipating, and a breastfed baby's bowel movements have less odor, making diaper changes more pleasant and baby sweeter smelling. Nighttime feedings are also easier. If your baby is kept close at night, you may not even have to get out of bed to feed him. Just tuck him in next to you and both of you can drift back to sleep while he nurses.
By four months, the family of the exclusively breastfed baby will save formula costs of between $300 and $720.