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Although babies will thrive whether nursed or formula-fed, breastfeeding provides advantages that formulas cannot match. Breastfeeding is nature’s way of providing a good diet for the baby. It is, in fact, used as the guide by which nutritional requirements of infants are measured (Figure 12-3).
Mother’s milk provides the infant with temporary immunity to many infectious diseases. It is economical, nutritionally perfect, and sanitary, and it saves time otherwise spent in shopping for or preparing formula. It is sterile, is easy to digest, and usually does not cause gastrointestinal disturbances or allergic reactions. Breastfed infants have fewer infections (especially ear infec-tions) during the first few months of life than formula-fed babies. And because breast milk contains less protein and minerals than infant formula, it reduces the load on the infant’s kidneys. Breastfeeding also promotes oral motor devel-opment in infants and decreases the infant’s risk of obesity and diabetes.
Within the first several weeks of life the infant will nurse approxi-mately every 2–4 hours. As the infant grows and develops, a stronger sucking ability will allow more milk to be extracted at each feeding, and the frequency of nursing sessions will decrease. It is recommended that an infant nurse at each breast for approximately 10 to 15 minutes each session. Growth spurts occur at about 10 days, 2 weeks, 6 weeks, and 3 months. During this time, the infant will nurse more frequently to increase the supply of nutrients needed to support growth.
One can be quite confident the infant is getting sufficient nutrients and calories from breastfeeding if (1) there are six or more wet diapers a day, (2)there is normal growth, (3) there are one or two mustard-colored bowel movements a day, and (4) the breast becomes less full during nursing.
From the mother’s perspective at least, the bonding that occurs during breastfeeding is unmatched. In addition, breastfeeding helps the mother’s uterus return to normal size after delivery, controls postpartum bleeding, and also helps the mother more quickly return to her prepregnancy weight.
Research has shown a correlation between breastfeeding and a decreased risk of breast cancer and osteoporosis in premenopausal women.
Breastfeeding had been on the decline for many years, but a growing number of mothers are now nursing their babies. If the mother works and cannot be available for every feeding, breast milk can be expressed earlier, refrigerated or frozen, and used at the appropriate time, or a bottle of formula can be substituted. Never warm the breast milk in a microwave because the antibodies will be destroyed.
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