The Benefits of Nursing

mother and babyIn recent years, nursing – particularly at work or in public, has become a hot topic both in offices around the country and in the media. However, what is often lost in the discussion are the facts that reveal the benefits of feeding infants breast milk as opposed to formula. While formula is the ideal substitute if the mother is physically unable to provide breast milk for the child, if breast milk is an option, the National Institute of Health (among other government organizations) has proposed a set of guidelines that encourage this.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants should be fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life. This means that during those first months, your infant is consuming nothing else other than breast milk, unless your doctor advises otherwise.

After these first six months, the AAP suggests that mothers continue breastfeeding their child while slowly introducing solids into the child’s diet.

Once the child reaches the one year mark, the mother can continue preparing breast milk if these is mutually desired by both mother and infant.

The World Health Organization similarly recommends that mothers provide their newborns exclusively with breast milk for the first six months of life then slowly introduce complementary solid foods while continuing to breastfeed for up to two years or more.

The World Health Organization, American Academy of Pediatrics and doctors agree on the importance of breastfeeding your children for those first six months of life. However, after the first year, there remains discussion over when exactly is the appropriate cutoff time.

But what is it, exactly that makes breast milk so important?

In terms of the health of the  baby, the cells, antibodies and hormones from the mother contained in her breast milk protect the child from a number of illnesses. Additional research suggests that babies who are fed breast milk have a lower likelihood of: lower respiratory infections, ear infections, asthma, childhood leukemia, diarrhea and vomiting, SIDS, necrotizing enterocolitis, childhood obesity, eczema, and more.

In addition to these health benefits of the child, breastfeeding provides a form of emotional bonding for the mother and her child, as well as health benefits for the mother. Studies show that breastfeeding can have both short and long-term health benefits for the mother. Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of some types of breast cancers and ovarian cancer. Estrogen levels are lower during lactation, and it is believed that this less estrogen available to stimulate the lining of the uterus and (possibly breast tissue), the smaller the risk of these tissues becoming cancerous. Breastfeeding also leads to a lower risk type 2 diabetes for mothers. Another health benefit includes reducing the likelihood of developing osteoporosis later in life. Additionally, breastfeeding contributes to post-partum weight loss.

Although not every woman is physically able to breastfeed her child, it’s important to keep in mind the benefits of this practice for those women that are capable of this.

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