Breastfeeding – The Natural Choice According to Pediatrics for Parents, approximately seventy percent of women breastfeed alone or in combination with formula at the time of hospital discharge. This rate drops significantly to about thirty-three percent by the time the child has reached six months of age. During this time, many mothers begin to use alternate methods of feeding, such as baby formula and/or the early introduction of solid foods to the baby’s diet. In fact, two billion dollars per year is spent by families on breast milk substitutes. However, this is may not be wise, as breastfeeding is more than just beneficial to the baby, the mother, and society; it is also a natural, biological process that all mothers should seriously consider after giving birth. First, “Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to ensure your baby's health and development. It's a convenient, cost-effective, natural way to feed your baby” (National). Breast milk has been found to provide the ideal balance of nutrients for optimal growth and development, and it is easily digestible by the baby. This is because the breasts produce colostrum, which is a thick, yellowish fluid that helps a newborn’s digestive system develop and function properly. Many common childhood illnesses can also be prevented by nursing as breast milk contains antibodies that pass from the mother to the baby for protection. This is called natural immunity, and studies have shown a decrease in both hospitalizations and pediatrician visits in babies that were breastfed by their mothers. Some of the common ailments that are decreased include bacterial meningitis, diarrhea, ear infections, and respiratory tract infections. Other, more severe conditions, such as sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) and childhood leukemia, have been confirmed by research to have a reduced risk of development in babies who have been breastfed. For premature infants, human milk significantly shortens the duration of their hospital stay, hastens brainstem maturation, and reduces the risk of life-threatening diseases. A mother’s breast milk is unique in both its composition and function, and cannot currently be reproduced by other manmade substance. “Breast milk changes over time, and even over the course of the day, to meet the changing needs of the growing child” (United States). Studies have shown that a baby needs to be held and comforted by the mother in order to satisfy his or her emotional needs. Although it is possible for bottle-fed babies to achieve this, some parents have been known to prop up bottles in order to feed their babies or to let their children hold their own bottles as they grow old enough to hold them on their own. This can lead to choking when a child is unsupervised, or tooth decay if the bottle is held in the mouth while the child sleeps during the night. Breastfeeding helps newborns feel more secure with their new surroundings. Even though there are a multitude of benefits for the baby, there are also many for the mother as well. Breastfeeding helps the uterus return back to its normal size and reduces postdelivery bleeding after birth by releasing a hormone called Oxytocin. It also burns up to five hundred calories per day, which helps the mother to shed the pounds gained during pregnancy in a natural way, and Breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression. Breastfeeding exclusively can delay the return of the menstrual cycle for twenty to thirty weeks. Not only does this help the mother recover quickly after leaving the hospital, but it is ninetyeight percent effective in preventing pregnancy. However, birth control is still suggested for preventative measures, and has not been found to have any adverse affects on the baby while breastfeeding. “Breastfeeding mothers are reported to be more confident and less anxious than bottle-feeding mothers” (United States). The most important benefit, however, is the bond developed between the baby and mother while breastfeeding, which helps to enhance the emotional attachment between the two. This physical contact also helps the baby to feel more secure and warm in their new environment, and eases the transition out of the womb. While breastfeeding, a baby gets skin-to-skin contact, ensuring a closer bond to their mother and helping the baby to feel more satisfied emotionally. “The practice establishes a strong emotional bond between the mother and child, and also helps in cognitive development of the latter” (Seda, Shiela). As many people may not be aware, there are benefits to society as well when a mother breastfeeds. Because a mother’s breast milk contains antibodies, which results in a reduction in infant illness, there is a reduced need for expensive health services that must be paid for by insurers, government agencies, and the families themselves. Because of this, both mothers and fathers will be able to take fewer sick days off from work, because there are less incidences of a child getting sick and needing to be taken care of by the parents. “The estimated cost of other forms of feeding (up to $1,200 per year for powdered formula) is four times that of breastfeeding (approximately $300 per year for increased food for a lactating woman.” Although powdered formula is expensive, concentrated, ready-to-feed formulas are even more so, and the cost of these has grown steadily over the last ten years. Another major benefit is that the packaging and production of breast milk is not as harmful to the environment as formulas. “Five-hundred and seventy-eight million dollars per year in federal funds is spent by the U.S Department of Agriculture’s Special Supplemental Nutrition Programs for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) to buy formula for babies who are not breastfeeding,” WIC would actually save $750,000 per year for every ten percent increase in the breastfeeding rate among WIC recipients. Also, many conditions and diseases that are preventable by breastfeeding cost the society an excess of $3.6 to $7 billion a year (United States). According to the National Women’s Health Resource Center, breastfeeding is widely recommended as the best way to feed infants. Some of these health organizations include the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. For most mothers and their babies, breastfeeding can be a rewarding process. However, it may, at times, seem daunting for the mother. Some mothers will actually refuse to breastfeed because of the complications that they may face during the first few weeks. These complications include mild nipple tenderness, engorgement of the breasts, breast infections, yeast infections, and pain during breastfeeding. Fortunately, all of these complications are not serious, and can be relieved by treatment easily. Therefore, these complications are no excuse for a mother to choose not to breastfeed. It is important for a woman who plans to breastfeed to regularly visit her health care physician for support and care during the breastfeeding process. There are also new mother support groups that have been created for support purposes. Although breastfeeding may seem scary or foreign, it is actually a very natural process of the body that will, with time, become both comfortable and natural for the mother. After weighing the multitude of benefits for the baby, society, and the mother herself, breastfeeding is the only choice when it comes to feeding and taking care of a baby in the most optimal way -the way nature intended. Works Cited National Women’s Health Resource Center. “Breastfeeding.” 1 May 2007. 9 Mar. 2009 <http://www.healthywomen.org/healthtopics/breastfeeding>. Reiss, Natalie Staats. "New Research Suggests that Breastfeeding Babies for at Least Six Months is Best." Pediatrics for Parents 1 May 2007: 3-4. Research Library. ProQuest. Navarro College, Waxahachie, TX. Richard Sanchez Lib. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://catalog.navarrocollege.edu:2095/>. Seda, Sheila. "Breastfeeding: Key to Child Health." Nursing Journal of India 99.8 (2008): 169. ProQuest Nursing & Allied Health Source. ProQuest. Navarro College, Waxahachie, TX,. Richard Sanchez Lib. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://catalog.navarrocollege.edu:2095/>. United States Breastfeeding Committee. “Benefits of Breastfeeding.” 2002. 10 Mar. 2009 <http://www.usbreastfeeding.org/Issue-Papers/Benefits.pdf>.