The American Academy of Pediatrics asks new mothers to try to breastfeed their baby for a year, for optimal health benefits. But you should know that whatever amount of time you can devote to breastfeeding is better than none. For instance:
- Breastfeeding for those first days in the hospital gives your baby colostrum. This antibody-rich liquid is a major health booster to your newborn, who has an immature immune system. Formula can't replicate colostrum's unique composition.
- Continuing during baby's first three months gives your baby's digestive system a break. The proteins in cow's milk formula as well as soy milk formula are tougher for an infant's body to break down than those in breast milk, so the longer you can put off the transition to formula, the better.
- Breastfeeding while baby starts solids gives you a smooth transition. Baby won't go from all-milk meals straight to all baby cereal and mush -- the gradual switch will last from age 4 to 6 months through baby's first birthday. Continuing with breastfeeding while baby begins solids can cut down baby's risk of developing allergies, including food allergies. Using your breast milk to mix baby's cereal gives him the flavors he's used to, and breastfeeding first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening gives him a calming (and nutritious) ritual.
- For as long as you can nurse, you and your baby will feel the bonding of breastfeeding. The skin-to-skin contact and cuddly closeness you both get from breastfeeding are among its biggest benefits. Dad can get bonding time with a bottle and so can you if you need to, but nursing for as long as you're comfortable gives you and baby a unique chance to get to know one another.
Sources: American Academy of Pediatrics; La Leche League
All content here, including advice from doctors and other health professionals, should be considered as opinion only. Always seek the direct advice of your own doctor in connection with any questions or issues you may have regarding your own health or the health of others.