Healthy Kids : August Is National Breast-feeding Month

In addition to containing all the nutrients your baby needs in the first six months of life, breast milk offers benefits to both mother and baby that extend well beyond nutrition. If you're able to breast-feed, here are a few reasons why it's a healthy choice.

The cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk protect babies from illnesses and infections. Research shows that breast-fed babies have a lower risk of asthma, childhood leukemia, ear infections, eczema, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), types 1 and 2 diabetes, and obesity. They also have lower incidences of pneumonia, colds, and viruses.

Research shows a connection between breast-feeding and better cognitive development in children. Additional research is needed to understand whether the cognitive effects are due to the contents of breast milk or from other factors, such as the increased interaction between mother and child while nursing.

Breast-feeding helps a mother heal. Mothers who breast-feed tend to experience less blood loss following childbirth and improved healing. Breast-feeding also helps the uterus return to its normal size more quickly.

Breast-feeding offers both physical and emotional benefits due to skin-to-skin contact. These benefits extend to both baby and mother. It's also a great way to learn more about your baby and how to read her "satiety cues" a little better and judge from your baby's behavior to know when she is full.

Women who breast-feed have a reduced risk of several diseases. Studies link breast-feeding to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis, ovarian cancer, and certain types of breast cancer. Breast-feeding women also have a lower risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis -- during pregnancy and lactation, the body absorbs calcium much more efficiently, so some bones become more dense than before pregnancy.

Mothers who breast-feed are less likely to experience postpartum depression. This condition is seen more often in new moms who do not breast-feed.

Breast-feeding may help you lose weight. Many women who breast-fed their babies report that it helped them get back to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly. If you feed your baby 20 ounces of breast milk a day, that's about 400 calories removed from your body!

Exclusive breast-feeding (meaning no solid food, formula, or water) for the first six months seems to offer the most protection. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breast-feed for at least the first year of a child's life and continue until they both feel they're ready to stop.

Breast-feeding is natural, but it's not always easy. If you need help or support, don't hesitate to contact your healthcare practitioner or a certified lactation consultant.

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