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When comparing breast milk to formula, breast milk wins almost every time. Breast milk provides the specific nutrients that babies need to grow, both in size and maturity. Also, for most babies, especially premature babies, formula (made from cow’s milk) is harder to digest than breast milk.
Let’s not forget another important point. When babies are born, they aren’t as able to fight illness-causing germs. Breast milk contains antibodies that protect babies from illnesses to which the mother is immune, and also those to which she has been exposed.
Research shows that breastfed babies have lower risks of:
Moms benefit from breastfeeding too. It can help lower your risk of:
The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services outlines more benefits of breastfeeding:
It’s no doubt that breast milk helps protect babies from illness. Unfortunately, not all new moms who want to breastfeed are able to. Your baby may need formula if you have a health problem that won't allow you to breastfeed. Also, some babies are born unable to tolerate milk of any kind (although it’s rare). In these situations, formula feeding can save lives.
Then there are about two-thirds of nursing mothers who try to breastfeed but are unable to stick with it for as long as they intended. Don’t be too hard on yourself if you’re not able to breastfeed. Infant formula is a healthy alternative and provides babies with the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.
Some women who have issues breastfeeding but still want their baby to benefit from breast milk will exclusively pump. More research is needed to determine if pumping imparts the same benefits as breastfeeding.
If you decide to give it a try, know that breastfeeding can be challenging, especially in the early days. A lactation consultant can teach you how to feed your baby, and help with any breastfeeding problems, such as latching difficulties, painful nursing, low milk production and return-to-work issues.
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What nobody tells you about breastfeeding
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