Breast-feeding is the healthiest way to nourish your baby. Yet for reasons varying from health concerns to convenience, or the simple fact that they have to return to work, many mothers consider formula feeding more convenient. No matter how a mother feeds her baby, the main concern is to make sure the baby stays healthy and grows at an appropriate rate.
"We recommend that every mother breast-feed," says Karen Wickward, a board-certified lactation consultant at Deaconess. "It's better for both baby and mother, and allows them important bonding time."
Breast milk is made up of hundreds of ingredients that are manufactured in a woman's mammary glands.
"This liquid is the most complete source of protein, fats, lactose, vitamins, minerals and anti-infectants a baby can consume," Wickward says.
Breast milk is easy on a newborn's fragile digestive system, and it helps the baby develop protective antibodies to fight off ear infections, allergies and many childhood diseases.
Nursing is also beneficial for the mother because it causes the uterus to contract back to its normal size after childbirth.
Breast-feeding helps burn calories, and encourages a healthy rate of weight loss in Mom after the birth. New evidence also suggests that nursing may reduce risks of ovarian and breast cancer later on.
Aside from the physical benefits, breast-feeding is a bonding experience. New mother
Jen Mulbeier is experiencing this connection with her baby girl, Elena.
"Once a baby recognizes her mother's smell, no one else can comfort her like the mother. Your touch and skin are already familiar," Mulbeier says. The skin-on-skin contact, combined with the flow of nutrients, encourages emotional bonds that can last a lifetime
Although lactation specialists and other women's health care professionals promote breast-feeding, there can be some side effects, such as breast inflammation.
"The infection is not serious, and can be treated safely with antibiotics without an interruption in breast-feeding," Wickward says.
Some new mothers are surprised to learn that breast-feeding may be a little uncomfortable. Mulbeier chuckles when the mention of pain is brought up. "The pain of a new mom breast-feeding when the baby latches on is worse than a contraction," she says, adding that breast-feeding doesn't remain painful.
Wickward agrees: "About 90 percent of new moms get sore nipples, but if it hurts that bad, then it's possible the baby isn't latched on correctly."
Although almost 90 percent of mothers choose to nurse their babies from the start; after six weeks, 30-40 percent of those moms who started out breast-feeding are still at it. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breast-feed exclusively for six months. It's hard to say why so many drop off after six weeks, but at least some have reservations about nursing in public.
"The law states that it is a woman's right to feed her baby in public. It does not say anything specifically about breast-feeding in public," says Michele Isherwood, a member of the La Leche League, a support group for breast-feeding mothers. The group operates in 63 countries, providing support and information on breast-feeding. Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization rely on the La Leche League for breast-feeding information.
"Many women feel they would be asked to leave a public venue for breast-feeding," Isherwood says, "but they can't be, according to the law." Breast-feeding is both natural and necessary, but mothers can often feel chastised for nursing in public. This is one of the many reasons mothers choose to integrate formula into their infant's diet.
"We feel that it is a mother's choice how long to breast-feed, based on what is best for her and her baby," Isherwood says. "It will be different periods of time for different women and their infants."