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To Breastfeed or Not: Why There Should Be No Question!

If you must return to work right after your maternity leave expires, you may be wondering if breastfeeding is really worth all the trouble involved in ensuring your baby a supply of mother's milk when you're away. You probably already know that breastfeeding is best for baby, but do you know that it's best for you too?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has always advocated breastfeeding as the perfect source of nutrition for baby. The AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first six months of life to ensure baby's optimal health and development. It's strongly recommended that you continue breastfeeding to age 12 months, after solid foods are introduced. Here's why!

New research suggests that the advantages of breastfeeding go far beyond its nutritional role. You probably already know that your immunity to diseases is passed to your baby in breast milk. But did you know that it also makes your baby smarter, prettier, and protects against many serious diseases that can develop later.

"Breast milk, because it is designed for human babies, contains all the nutrients a baby's brain needs to reach its maximum potential," says Jack Newman, MD, FRCP, a pediatrician and expert on breastfeeding. "Researchers have known from early on that children who breastfed as infants scored, on average, higher on tests of intelligence and development. It may be that the increased skin-to-skin contact and holding are also factors," adds Newman, noting that skin contact with bottle-fed babies declines as soon as baby is able to hold the bottle.

Long-term breastfeeding seems to promote the development of a well-shaped jaw and straight teeth. Therefore, it may eliminate the need for orthodontic work later on. "Anyone who has carefully observed a baby suck on a bottle and compared it to the way a baby suckles at the breast knows that these are two very different techniques," says Newman. "Naturally, they lead to different development of muscles in the baby's cheeks, jaw, and tongue. Some people claim they can recognize a breastfed baby on sight, just by looking for the rounded, well-developed cheeks."

Additionally, studies suggest that breastfeeding protects against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), Type 1 diabetes (child onset, insulin dependent), asthma, and leukemia. Formula feeding, on the other hand, has been shown to be a risk factor for ear infections, childhood cancer, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections and diseases, diarrhea, constipation, colitis, meningitis, Crohn's disease, eczema, certain types of heart disease, and allergies. In addition, babies who are artificially fed are more prone to become obese children and teens and have decreased response to immunizations.

Here's why breastfeeding is best for you too! Physicians have known for some time that breastfeeding increases levels of oxytocin in women, which decreases blood loss and causes the uterus to contract quickly after childbirth. A recent study suggests that oxytocin lowers blood pressure in breastfeeding mothers. Now new research suggests that lactating mothers return to pre-pregnancy weight more quickly than mothers who do not breastfeed. Additionally, lactation delays resumption of ovulation, providing natural birth control; improves bone remineralization following childbirth, which helps to protect against osteoporosis and hip fractures later in life; and reduces the risk for ovarian and breast cancers in both young and older women.

Breastfeeding also is easier on your pocketbook. Non-breastfeeding parents spend, on average, nearly $1,000 on formula during baby's first year of life. Because breastfed babies have significantly less illness, you're not as likely to miss days at work to care for a sick baby, which may mean loss of vacation time and/or wages.

If this still isn't enough to convince you that breastfeeding is worth the effort, consider the psychological benefits for both you and your baby. Although difficult to verify scientifically, many mothers, according to Newman, report that breastfeeding creates a connection so special that they naturally anticipate baby's needs before a whimper is heard. Some mothers who work outside the home say how much they look forward to breastfeeding when they get home at the end of the day, because it helps to re-establish their connection with their babies. "These mothers like having something special between them and their babies--something the babysitter can't do," says Newman, adding that it also forces a mother to slow down and spend time with her baby and guarantees mother and baby will be skin-to-skin several times a day.

He also notes that breastfeeding is comforting to a baby who is hurt, scared or upset for another reason. "It soothes a baby who has to be given a vaccination and calms a baby who has been startled by a barking dog or is stressed by being separated from his mother," continues Newman. "It reminds the baby of being in the womb: 'Ah, yes, there's that familiar heartbeat, and that voice I've always heard, and that familiar smell, and I'm warm and comfortable.' The experience (of breastfeeding) makes the transition to the outside world a little easier."

Newman suggests that expectant mothers learn everything they can about breastfeeding before giving birth. Read, watch videos, talk to other women who have breastfed, or take a breastfeeding class. Your obstetrician or pediatrician, prenatal instructors, lactation consultants, and the La Leche League International are good sources of information. Also, be sure to talk with your obstetrician about your decision to breastfeed, because baby should started on the breast within an hour of birth.

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