of Motherhood :Human Milk for Human Infants
The primary benefit of breast milk is nutritional. Human milk contains
just the right amount of fatty acids, lactose, water, and amino
acids for human digestion, brain development, and growth.
Cow's milk contains a different type of protein than breast milk.
This is good for calves, but human infants can have difficulty digesting
it. Bottle-fed infants tend to be fatter than breast-fed infants,
but not necessarily healthier.
Breast-fed babies have fewer illnesses because human milk transfers
to the infant a mother's antibodies to disease. About 80 percent
of the cells in breast milk are macrophages, cells that kill bacteria,
fungi and viruses. Breast-fed babies are protected, in varying degrees,
from a number of illnesses, including pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis,
staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections, and German
measles. Furthermore, mothers produce antibodies to whatever disease
is present in their environment, making their milk custom-designed
to fight the diseases their babies are exposed to as well.
A breast-fed baby's digestive tract contains large amounts of Lactobacillus
bifidus, beneficial bacteria that prevent the growth of harmful
organisms. Human milk straight from the breast is always sterile,
never contaminated by polluted water or dirty bottles, which can
also lead to diarrhea in the infant.
Human milk contains at least 100 ingredients not found in formula.
No babies are allergic to their mother's milk, although they may
have a reaction to something the mother eats. If she eliminates
it from her diet, the problem resolves itself.
Sucking at the breast promotes good jaw development as well. It's
harder work to get milk out of a breast than a bottle, and the exercise
strengthens the jaws and encourages the growth of straight, healthy
teeth. The baby at the breast also can control the flow of milk
by sucking and stopping. With a bottle, the baby must constantly
suck or react to the pressure of the nipple placed in the mouth.
Nursing may have psychological benefits for the infant as well,
creating an early attachment between mother and child. At birth,
infants see only 12 to 15 inches, the distance between a nursing
baby and its mother's face. Studies have found that infants as young
as 1 week prefer the smell of their own mother's milk. When nursing
pads soaked with breast milk are placed in their cribs, they turn
their faces toward the one that smells familiar.
Many psychologists believe the nursing baby enjoys a sense of security
from the warmth and presence of the mother, especially when there's
skin-to-skin contact during feeding. Parents of bottle-fed babies
may be tempted to prop bottles in the baby's mouth, with no human
contact during feeding. But a nursing mother must cuddle her infant
closely many times during the day. Nursing becomes more than a way
to feed a baby; it's a source of warmth and comfort.
Benefits to Mothers
Breast-feeding is good for new mothers as well as for their babies.
There are no bottles to sterilize and no formula to buy, measure
and mix. It may be easier for a nursing mother to lose the pounds
of pregnancy as well, since nursing uses up extra calories. Lactation
also stimulates the uterus to contract back to its original size.
A nursing mother is forced to get needed rest. She must sit down,
put her feet up,and relax every few hours to nurse. Nursing at night
is easy as well. No one has to stumble to the refrigerator for a
bottle and warm it while the baby cries. If she's lying down, a
mother can doze while she nurses.
Nursing is also nature's contraceptive--although not a very reliable
one. Frequent nursing suppresses ovulation, making it less likely
for a nursing mother to menstruate, ovulate, or get pregnant. There
are no guarantees, however. Mothers who don't want more children
right away should use contraception even while nursing. Hormone
injections and implants are safe during nursing, as are all barrier
methods of birth control. The labeling on birth control pills says
if possible another form of contraception should be used until the
baby is weaned.
Breast-feeding is economical also. Even though a nursing mother
works up a big appetite and consumes extra calories, the extra food
for her is less expensive than buying formula for the baby. Nursing
saves money while providing the best nourishment possible.