Breastfeeding: Better for Babies and Moms

By Rose Giordano

For years, nutritionists and health professionals have been urging new mothers to breastfeed. It has been widely accepted as the optimal nourishment for infants by scientists and health organizations across the world.

Breastfeeding promotes mother-infant bonding

One of the most important aspects of the mother-infant relationship is the bonding that develops during breastfeeding. Newborns thrive on the being held. In fact, health professionals agree that premature infants are more likely to have trouble developing if they are not held or shown affection.

The comforting environment of breastfeeding stimulates a mother's body to release a chemical, oxytocin, which is not only responsible for contractions and milk ejection but also encourages stress reduction and the maternal instinct to bond with her child.1

Mother's milk provides the ultimate nutrition

Human milk is uniquely species-specific, making breastfeeding the preferred choice of nourishment for newborns. Breast milk is easier to digest than formula and also contains natural antibodies that provide immunity against certain bacteria and viruses commonly responsible for a newborns gastrointestinal distress. It is those antibodies that may be or at least partially responsible for the lower incidence of diarrhea, intestinal diseases such as Crohn's disease, as well as a number of other illnesses in young children.2

Does breastfeeding lead to smarter babies?

There have been a number of studies that suggest that breast-fed children have an enhanced brain development.3,4  A study following children from infancy to adolescence found that the average IQ of children who were breast-fed scored higher than formula-fed children.5 Another classic study determined that the longer a child is breast-fed, the greater the enhancement of his or her cognitive ability.6

Benefits of breastfeeding for Moms

Mothers who are nursing for at least six months regain their figure more quickly. The biological process of breastfeeding burns 500 extra calories per day. A nursing mom who sticks to a normal diet will lose the extra weight gained during pregnancy than those who choose to bottle feed.7 Additional research has shown that breastfeeding women claim to be calmer and also report lower blood pressure.

Is baby formula really that bad?

Many studies of newborns show minimal, if any, difference in the growth and health between breast-fed and formula-fed infants. But the debate still holds as to whether formula-fed newborns are missing out on the natural immunity chemicals that are provided by mom.

The nutrient content of infant formulas sold in the United States is closely monitored by the Infant Formula Act, which is also enforced by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). All formulas must contain the minimum amounts of all nutrients that are known to be required for the optimal health of infants.

A mother who is unable or who has chosen not to breastfeed should not lead to an indication of loving her newborn any less. The bonding between the mother and child need not be any different than that of a nursing mother and child.

1 Uvnas-Moberg K, Eriksson, M. “Breastfeeding: physiological, endocrine and behavioural adaptations caused by oxytocin and local neurogenic activity in the nipple and mammary gland” Acta Paediatrica, 1996 Volume 85 Issue 5 Pages: 525-30.

2 Koletzko S, Sherman P, Corey M, et al. "Role of infant feeding practices in development of Crohn's disease in childhood." British Medical Journal, 1989 Volume 298 Pages: 1617-18.

3 Ounsted M, Moar V, Cockburn J, Redman C. “Factors associated with intellectual ability of children born to women with high risk pregnancies”. British Journal of Medicine, 1984 Volume 288 Pages: 1038-41.

4 Taylor B, Wadsworth J. “Breast feeding and child development at five years.” Developmental Medicine and Child Neurology, 1984 Volume 26 Pages: 73-80.

5 Anderson JW et al (1999) "Breastfeeding and cognitive development: a meta-analysis" American Journal of Clinical Nutrition Volume: 70 Pages: 525-35.

6 Hoefer C, Hardy MC. “Later development of breast fed and artificially fed infants.” Journal of the American Medical Association, 1929 Volume: 92 Pages: 615-20.

7 Dewey KG, Heinig MJ, Nommwen LA. "Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation. " American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 1993 Volume: 58 Pages: 162-16.