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Breast-Feeding: Better for Your Baby, Better for You

Experts say that breast-feeding, when possible, is the best nutritional option for you and your baby.

smiling baby laying on the floor

One of the important decisions you’ll face as an expectant mother is how you will feed your baby after the birth. Breast-feeding offers significant and long-lasting benefits for both you and your newborn.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends you begin breast-feeding as soon as possible following birth, ideally within the first hour. In most cases, having breast milk be the baby’s exclusive source of nutrition until about six months of age — when solid food is introduced — is ideal. The AAP also recommends you continue breast-feeding until the baby is at least 12 months old.

In rare cases, a medical condition (in mother or baby) may make breast-feeding inadvisable. Ask your doctor about any concerns.

Here are some of the things to think about when making the choice to breast-feed or bottle-feed.

Benefits for baby

In addition to the bonding experience, breast-feeding offers many advantages for your baby. It’s always available, free and easy to digest. The thick yellow breast milk you produce right after birth, colostrum, is rich with nutrients and antibodies. Breast milk has the right mix of protein, fats, carbohydrates and calcium for your baby. The breast milk that follows within three to five days is easier to digest than formula and contains an essential fatty acid called DHA, which is important in brain and eye development.

Breast-fed babies have fewer ear infections, less diarrhea and have better resistance to disease and infection than bottle-fed babies. Studies also suggest that breast-feeding may offer protection against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), type 2 diabetes, childhood obesity and asthma, to name a few.

Premature babies tend to do better when fed breast milk rather than formula.

(Note: The AAP recommends asking your baby’s doctor about vitamin D and iron supplements if you breast-feed.)

Breast-feeding benefits for moms

Breast-feeding creates a surge of hormones that helps your uterus to contract and shrink to its pre-pregnant size. It may also delay the return of your periods, though it is very important you not count on this as a birth control method. You may also lose weight more quickly after giving birth.

Breast milk is free, sterile and readily available. And the skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contact during breast-feeding can create a wonderful bond between you and your baby.

Deciding to bottle-feed

Some women may decide to bottle-feed their baby or may change from breast- to bottle-feeding. Here are some things to know:

  • Formulas are getting better at matching the mix of nutrients to breast milk. Some formulas have nutrients that breast-fed babies get through supplements. However, some babies may need to try several formulas before you find the right one.
  • You may have more flexibility, as others can help feed the baby (though pumping breast milk into a bottle would give you flexibility, too).
  • Costs can add up. You have to buy formula, nipples and bottles.
  • It takes time. You’ll have to keep the bottles clean and in some situations, sterilized.
  • You don’t have to worry about what you eat or drink, or what medicines you take that could affect your baby.

In most cases the decision to breast- or bottle-feed is yours. However, there may be certain health conditions where it is recommended not to breast-feed your baby. Discussing your health concern with your doctor is a good place to start.

By Beth Hawkins, Contributing Writer

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Your Pregnancy and Childbirth, 6th ed. Washington, DC; ACOG 2015.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Policy statement: Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012; 129:827-841. Accessed: July 12, 2016.
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Breastfeeding your baby FAQ. Accessed: July 12, 2016.
Office on Women’s Health. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Why breastfeeding is important. Accessed: July 12, 2016.

Last Updated: July 13, 2016