Health & Beauty
May 12, 2006
Make every effort to breastfeed your baby

Dear Doc,

If I don’t breastfeed my baby, is she at greater risk of getting ill, and why?{{more}}


Dear Sally,

Unless you are HIV positive or your doctor has told you that you or your baby has a medical condition that would make breastfeeding unwise or unsafe, you should make every effort to breastfeed your baby for at least the first six months of life. Breastfeeding is one of the very best things you can do to give your child a good start.

The benefits of breastfeeding to both baby and mother are tremendous. Breast milk is more easily digested than formula, hence baby has less colic, gas and spitting up. Its composition of fat, carbohydrates, enzymes and protein as well as other nutrients changes depending on your baby’s stage. Colostrum, the first type of milk produced by the breast after your baby is born, is a perfect first food as it makes it much easier for baby to fight off infections. Breastfeeding reduces or even eliminates food allergies and eczema, and is associated with a much lower incidence of wheezing, prolonged colds, diarrhea, and vomiting.

For the mother, breastfeeding encourages uterine contractions so that the uterus returns to its pre-pregnancy size much faster. Breastfeeding can also speed up weight loss after you give birth. Breastfeeding can also help the mother feel happier since levels of oxytocin and prolactin in her body are increased. These are hormones that enhance feelings of nurturing and contentment. Breastfeeding is also more economical, easier and less time consuming. There is no preparation involved, and you don’t have to prepare, warm, or transport bottles.

Breastfeeding also helps you and your baby to bond, and the skin-to-skin contact offered by breastfeeding reduces the stress babies experience when they enter the world from the warmth and safety of the womb.

If you fall ill before your baby is weaned, ask your doctor if it is okay for you to continue nursing your baby while you are unwell. In most cases, you can still breastfeed even if you are taking prescription drugs. Only small amounts will pass through breast milk, and there are usually no problems for the baby. There are a few exceptions however, so speak to your doctor.