Protecting your baby from harm is the primary concern of every new mother. While this responsibility may begin long before the infant’s first meal, studies have shown that breastfeeding can significantly contribute to the well-being of a new baby as well as its mother.
“Nursing allows the mother to transfer antibodies for diseases to her baby immediately,” explains Stanley Grogg, DO, an osteopathic pediatrician practicing in Tulsa, Okla. “Because a mother’s antibodies are for those diseases present in her environment, they are custom-made for her baby.”
Approximately 80% of the cells in breast milk kill bacterial, fungi and viruses, according to the Federal Drug Administration. These antibodies protect babies in varying degrees from all types of illnesses, ranging from pneumonia and ear infections to German measles.
“Although breast-fed babies have more protection from illness, they tend to weigh less than their formula-fed counterparts. This confuses a lot of mothers who then assume that the larger babies are healthier, but this is certainly not the case,” explains Dr. Grogg.
In fact, he explains that there are numerous health benefits to nursing in addition to the protection from illnesses. For example, the exercise of sucking at the breast can promote good jaw development and the growth of straight and healthy teeth for an infant because the baby has to work much harder to get milk out of a breast than a bottle.
“From a psychological standpoint, nursing babies also enjoy a sense of security from the act of breastfeeding and immediately form an attachment to their mother,” explains Dr. Grogg.
Breastfeeding does not only benefit the baby, but nursing can be advantageous for new mothers as well. Physically, nursing mothers commonly lose weight from the extra calories burned through breastfeeding, and it stimulates the uterus to contract back to its original size.
In addition, Dr. Grogg also explains that breastfeeding can ease the high stress levels often associated with being a new mom.
“Instead of rushing to sterilize, measure and mix formula, mothers can calmly sit down and relax every few hours with their infant, because breast milk is already sterile and the baby controls consumption.”
He also says that breast feeding is economical, decreasing the financial stress that several bottles of formula per day could create for a family.
Dr. Grogg recommends exclusive breast milk for the first six months of the baby’s life with solid or semi-solid foods complementing the milk after six months.
"Breastfeeding should continue for up to at least two years, while receiving complementary foods,” he explains. “This is a wonderful way for mom to prevent illnesses for her baby while strengthening their bond."