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Breastfeeding Benefits

By Dr. Erica Attanasio

Nursing can be a wonderful experience for both mother and baby. It provides ideal nourishment and is a special bonding experience. Antibodies passed from a nursing mother to her baby can help lower the occurrence of many conditions, including ear infections, diarrhea, respiratory infections, meningitis, and obesity. 

Breast milk also naturally contains many of the vitamins and minerals that a newborn requires. A healthy mother does not need any additional vitamins or nutritional supplements, with the exception of vitamin D. Breast milk does contain some vitamin D, and vitamin D is produced by the body when the skin is exposed to sunlight. However, sun exposure should be minimized in infants. As a result, the AAP recommends that all breastfed babies begin receiving vitamin D supplements during the first 2 months and continuing until the infant consumes enough vitamin D-fortified formula or milk. 

Certain medical conditions and medications make breastfeeding unsafe. A woman should check with her doctor or a lactation consultant if she's unsure if she should breastfeed with a specific condition. Women should always check with the doctor about the safety of taking medications while breastfeeding, including over-the-counter and herbal medicines. Mothers who've had breast surgery, such as a reduction, may have difficulty with supply if their milk ducts have been severed. In this situation, a woman should to talk to her doctor about her concerns and work with a lactation specialist.

Formula Feeding

Breastfeeding is not right for every mother. Commercially prepared infant formulas are a nutritious alternative to breast milk. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration regulates formula companies to ensure that they provide all the known necessary nutrients (including vitamin D) in their formulas. Because formula digests slower than breast milk, formula-fed babies usually need to eat less often than do breastfed babies. Formula-fed babies may have more gas and firmer bowel movements than breastfed babies. Formula comes in a variety of different preparations including ready-to-feed liquid, liquid concentrate, and powder.  There is no nutritional difference between the preparations.

Topics and Subtopics: Infant Care, Pregnancy & Women's Health

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