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Breastfeeding overview

Making the decision to breastfeed is a very personal matter. It is also one that is very likely to elicit strong opinions from friends and family.

Many medical authorities, including the British Medical Association and the World Health Organisation, strongly recommend breastfeeding. But you and your baby are unique, and the decision is ultimately up to you. To help you in your decision about breastfeeding, BootsWebMD offers this overview of breastfeeding. Find out what the benefits are for you and your baby. And, if you do decide to breastfeed, there is information you can use to get started with confidence.

What are the breastfeeding benefits for the baby?

Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has the perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat -- everything your infant needs to grow. And it is all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding reduces your baby's risk of developing eczema. Babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhoea. They also have fewer hospitalisations and trips to the GP.

The physical closeness, skin-to- skin touching, and eye contact all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. Some studies have also shown a link between breastfeeding and a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) or cot death, diabetes, obesity, and certain cancers. But more research is needed to confirm these findings.

Are there breastfeeding benefits for the mother?

Breastfeeding requires extra calories -- about 500 extra calories a day -- so you can lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may also lower your risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture after menopause.

Since you do not have to buy and measure formula, sterilise teats, or warm bottles, breastfeeding saves you time and money. Deciding to breastfeed provides you with regular time for relaxing quietly with your newborn as you grow close and bond emotionally.

How do I know I'll have enough milk when I start breastfeeding?

The first few days after birth, your breasts produce an ideal "first milk" called colostrum. Colostrum is thick, yellowish, and scant -- but there is plenty to meet your baby's nutritional needs. Colostrum helps a newborn's digestive tract develop and prepare itself to digest breast milk.

Most babies lose a small amount of weight in the first three to five days after birth. This is unrelated to breastfeeding. A natural connection exists between your baby's feeding needs and your milk production. As your baby needs more milk and feeds more, your breasts respond by producing more milk. Experts recommend breastfeeding exclusively (no formula, juice or water) for the first six months. If you supplement with formula, your breast milk production may go down.

Even if you breastfeed less than the recommended six months, it is better to breastfeed for a short time than no time at all. You can begin to add solid food at six months but also continue to breastfeed if you want to keep producing milk.

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