When I decided to create a top 10 reasons to breastfeed list, it wasn’t about playing the old card of breastfeeding versus formula feeding. I am a big supporter of breastfeeding and believe that many women are discouraged by misinformation and peer pressure, but I am also fully aware that there are many legitimate reasons why mothers can’t or won’t breastfeed.
My main reason for creating this list is to address the marginalization of breastfeeding, which is so pervasive in our culture that there are still so many women who feel like they need to defend their choice to breastfeed. THAT I have a major problem with.
Breastfeeding is simply how nature designed babies to be nourished by their mothers with milk that is perfectly designed to fulfill their needs and protect them from diseases while increasing bonding between mother and child, so it should be obvious that it is the most wholesome way to feed a child when the situation permits it.
In the 1950’s people’s perception began to change. Large companies started producing industrialized baby formula, and with that came an aggressive campaign to marginalize breastfeeding and to let women believe that the chemically produced mix was somehow better than the natural, free, and perfectly balanced breast milk.
The campaigns included suggestions that breastfeeding was something only done by lower class uneducated women who couldn’t afford formula, that it was somehow indecent and an inconvenience to women. Unfortunately they were very successful. So successful in fact, that even women who couldn’t afford to buy formula would give up on breastfeeding and dilute the formula they could afford to buy to make it last longer or mix it with contaminated water, creating a whole generation of undernourished sickly babies and as many as 1 million baby deaths in Africa in the 1970’s.
The current campaigns include giving away formula, bottles and perks to parents as soon as the child is born, knowing full well that while struggling to find a breastfeeding rhythm with their children, tired and stressed parents are much more likely to reach out for the disposable, easy to feed, sweet drinks that were just handed to them, without realizing that the quick flow of the bottle and shape of the nipple will make it much harder for the mother to successfully transition the baby to the breast after using the bottle early on.
The effects of the campaign have created a very clean line, where countries not affected by the campaigns still have a healthy breastfeeding tradition of nourishing their babies with breast milk for several years while the western world and other places currently targeted by the formula industry pressure mothers to use formula or stop breastfeeding as soon as possible. This list is a small sample of some of the benefits of breastfeeding to show how ill informed those who try to discourage breastfeeding are.
1 – Colostrum, the first milk produced by the mother shortly after the birth of the baby is specially designed to be digested by someone who never had to digest food. It will stimulate the baby’s immune system, deliver huge amounts of concentrated nutrition and antibodies and has growth factors that actually help construct the baby’s immune system. It’s no wonder is is called “liquid gold”.
2 – Breastfeeding helps mothers and baby reach a healthy weight. Its nutrition is easily absorbable by the baby and helps the mother use 500 calories to produce it, which is more than jogging for a full hour.
3 – When the baby is exposed to disease, breastfeeding ensures that the mother is exposed as well. The mother’s immune system will produce antibodies to fight the disease which will then be delivered as a substance called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) to the baby via breast milk within 24 hours. IgA is a substance that not only helps the baby actively fight infection, but also guards against invading germs by forming a protective layer on the mucous membranes in your baby’s intestines, nose, and throat.
4 – A study from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences showed that children who are breastfed have a 20 percent lower risk of dying between the ages of 28 days and 1 year than children who weren’t breastfed, with longer breastfeeding associated with lower risk. Save the Children (read study here) estimates that 830,000 infant deaths in developing countries could be prevented if every baby were given breast milk, and only breast milk, in the first hour. Infants who are not breastfed within an hour are 86.5% more likely to die during the neonatal period – the first 28 days of life – than those who are breastfed.
5 – Breastfeeding decreases the risks of breast and ovarian cancer by the mother and the chances of asthma and allergies for the baby.
6 – Breastfeeding helps protect the baby from as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and inflammatory bowel disease and lowers the incidence of overweight children in later years.
7 – The bonding and physical contact that happen while breastfeeding can help increase IQ scores and developmental milestones. A study of almost 4,000 children showed that babies who were breastfed had significantly higher scores on a vocabulary test at 5 years of age than children who were not breastfed. And the scores were higher the longer they had been nursed. Preterm infants with extremely low birth weight who received breast milk shortly after birth have much higher developmental scores than those not breastfed.
8 – Large studies have found that breastfeeding – either exclusively or partially – is associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The researchers concluded that exclusive breastfeeding at 1 month of age cut the risk of SIDS in half.
9 – Formula costs about $1200 a year, not including bottles, extra soap and water and any other apparatus associated with it. Breasfeeding is free, readily available and with nothing left to wash or carry around.
10 – Nursing reduces stress and can help avoid postpartum depression. Nursing triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. Numerous studies in animals and humans have found that oxytocin promotes nurturing and relaxation. (Oxytocin released while nursing also helps your uterus contract after birth, resulting in less postpartum bleeding.)
These are just a few reasons why, if possible, breastfeeding is a better option than formula. What do you consider to be the best reasons to breastfeed?