Breast feeding is, of course, the oldest method of providing nourishment to an infant. However, breast feeding has moved in and out of regular practice. In early modern Europe, for example, it was not uncommon for a woman to have a nursemaid – a servant who would breast feed the baby. In the mid-twentieth century, more babies were bottle fed than breast fed. In recent decades, there has been an increase in the practice of breast feeding. While not every mom can or will choose to breast feed, there are some benefits to breast feeding that should be considered.
Breast milk contains the specific nutrients that an infant needs, and it contains them in just the right amounts. Breast milk provides a way for your immune system to help your baby’s immune system, just as it did before you were born. Proponents of breastfeeding have suggested a variety of health benefits to feeding baby with breast milk, including:
- Higher resistance to illnesses, including pneumonia, flu, viruses, and colds.
- Higher resistance to infections, including strep, staph, and e-coli
- Higher resistance to intestinal disorders
- Higher resistance to urinary tract infections
- Added protection against Crohn’s disease, diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, colitis, and some forms of lymphoma
- Reduce incidence of dental cavities
- Assisted jaw, teeth, and speech development
- Lower chance of developing allergies
- Lower chance of learning disabilities
There are also some benefits to breast feeding baby for the mother. Some studies suggest that breast feeding reduces a woman’s risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer. Women who breast feed often experience quicker postpartum weight loss. Breast feeding is also thought to lower mom’s stress levels. Breastfeeding also delays menstruation, which will keep the mother’s iron losses to a minimum. Perhaps most importantly, breast feeding baby helps to facilitate bonding between the baby and his or her mother.
Having said all of this, bottle feeding baby is a viable option. Baby formula is designed to contain the nutrients your baby needs, as well. There is little research to suggest that bottle feeding actually harms a baby. Ultimately, the decision between breast or bottle is one that you need to make for yourself and for your baby.