When it comes to feeding your baby, is breastfeeding still the best approach to opt for?
Put simply, the resounding answer from the Department of Health (DoH), The Breastfeeding Network, Association of Breastfeeding Mothers (ABM) and the National Childbirth Trust (NCT), is yes, breastfeeding is best and is recommended if at all possible.
‘Breastfeeding for the first six months of life provides the best possible start for babies and helps to set down a pattern of good health for life,’ says the DoH. In fact, they now recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months (26 weeks) of an infant’s life, as it provides everything a baby needs.
Breast milk is designed to be just right for babies, providing all the essential nutrients needed. The first milk produced, called colostrum, is rich in antibodies and other crucial substances, which help build up immunity and protect your baby from catching infections or becoming ill.
There are numerous other benefits of breastfeeding, both for infants and their mums. It reduces the risk of infants suffering from stomach upsets and ear infections and it contributes in general to their physiological development. In cases where allergies, particularly eczema, run in the family, it has been shown to reduce the risk of them being passed on.
The simple act of breastfeeding enhances the bond between mother and baby and can play an important connecting role in the early days. Like their babies, women gain extra benefits too. Research has shown that those who breastfeed are less likely to suffer from pre-menopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer and broken bones due to osteoporosis later in life and it can play a part in helping women make a quicker return to their pre-pregnancy weight.
In line with the DoH, ABM recommends, ‘Exclusive breastfeeding until six months of beyond, then continued breastfeeding with the addition of suitable complementary foods for two years or more.’
‘We still don’t know after thousands of years exactly what is in breast milk, although over 200 ingredients have now been identified. This makes it impossible to replicate artificially,’ they claim.
When breastfeeding doesn’t happen
Despite the benefits, for some women breastfeeding just doesn’t work out, despite many attempts. If for any reason you’re not able to breastfeed, then bottle-feeding is a good option too and shouldn’t be something to feel bad about, advise the NCT.
Like breastfeeding, bottle-feeding provides an ideal opportunity for you to bond with your baby, but it has the added bonus of offering your partner the chance to join in as well. Taking turns with the feeding can take a huge amount of stress away from having to do it solely yourself, and isn’t quite such an exhausting method.
All baby milk formulas are produced to the best standards and, in the same way as breast milk, are designed to meet your baby’s nutritional requirements. They do vary slightly though, so it may take a few attempts to find the tastiest and satisfying formula for your infant.
Breastfeeding is beneficial if you’re able to, but what it really comes down to is finding the most suitable method for both you and your baby. So be guided by your instincts and experiences and talk to other mums. If you need further advice or help, have a chat with your midwife, nurse or doctor, or call one of the helplines listed below. After all, they’re there to help.
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I’m a family practice physician with a strong interest in preventive medicine. I trained at the Medical College of Virginia where I earned a medical degree (M.D.) and a master’s degree after graduating with a double bachelor’s degree in biology and psychology.
My philosophy? Strive to be fit and fabulous at any age! I show people how to do that through my writing.
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