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Is breast milk overrated?

Baby Care
 Photo; Courtesy

You may be under the impression that the decision to breast-feed or bottle-feed is simply a matter of personal preference. Don’t let anyone fool you into believing that breast milk and formula are equally good - they are not.

The two most powerful reasons for favoring breastfeeding are the nutritional suitability of breast milk for the human baby and the great psychological pleasure which successful breastfeeding brings to mother and child.

But there are also other factors that need to be considered, such as allergy, medication, convenience and expense.

Nutritional needs

Mother’s milk has the complete nutritional needs of the growing baby. It also protects the infant against illnesses through the entire first year and beyond, as long as nursing continues.

Conversely, there is no doubt that untreated cow’s milk is an unsuitable feed for human infants on several counts. It has higher protein and lower carbohydrate content and fat than human breast milk.

Immunity against illness

Although babies do grow on processed infant formulas and manufacturers try to include all of the nutrients in breast milk that scientists continually identify as important to infant growth and development. But artificial infant milks, whether based on cow’s milk or soya beans, can’t duplicate nature’s formula.

It’s worth bearing in mind that even breastfeeding for a few days can give your baby the benefit of antibodies in the milk that will protect her from dangerous infection.

The overriding reason for advocating breastfeeding is the avoidance of gastroenteritis. The breastfed baby has the advantage of receiving milk which is itself clean and contains specific factors which increase the baby’s resistance to infections of this sort.

Babies on a formula diet are at greater risk for illness and hospitalization. Diarrhoeal infections, respiratory illnesses, and ear infections are more frequent and serious among these babies.

Formula-fed infants also have higher incidences of colic, constipation, and allergic disorders. Research has shown that, a significant number of babies are allergic to formulas, both those based on cow milk and those based on soy.

 There is also new evidence that infants who are not breastfed more often experience learning disorders and lower levels of intellectual functioning.

Adulthood influence

Some studies suggest the benefits of breastfeeding also extend into adulthood. Bottle-fed babies have lower cholesterol levels, on average, when they become adults.

Although asthma rates are not significantly different between breastfed and non-breastfed babies, there is a lower rate of asthma in adults who were breastfed.

Babies have a lower chance of developing diabetes and cancer of the lymph glands if they are breastfed. For all of these reasons, researchers recommend that infants be offered only breast milk for the first four to six months of their lives, and that breastfeeding continue throughout the entire first year.

Emotional bond

The nursing woman produces hormones that promote a physiologic bonding between mother and child. There is evidence that a stronger mother-child relationship is forged between mothers and breastfed babies, especially when the baby is fed soon after delivery.

This of course does not mean that the bottle fed baby is at a psychological disadvantage. There is no doubt, however, that the great majority of women who breastfeed do enjoy the experience and feel especially close to their babies as a result.

Once breastfeeding is established, it can be the most simple, relaxing and pleasurable activity for both parties.

There is some rationalizing that bottle-feeding mothers can capture a similar warm feeding relationship but can’t be fully similar. This is partly because bottle feeding doesn’t require much human contact.

The bottle-fed baby generally receives less stroking, caressing and rocking than the breastfed baby. She is talked to less often and she spends more time in her crib away from her parents.

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