Breast-fed infants take in more than just nutrition with their mother's milk. The American Academy of Pediatrics call breast-feeding "the ideal method of feeding and nurturing infants." Like a magic elixir, the milk promotes the nursing infant's general health, growth, and development, while significantly decreasing the risk of infection. Breast-feeding has also been related to possible enhancement of cognitive development. It protects the nursing infant against a slew of diseases, including diarrhea, lower respiratory infection, otitis media, bacteremia, bacterial meningitis, botulism, urinary-tract infection, necrotizing enterocolitis, sudden infant death syndrome, insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, and allergic diseases. And, of course, there is evidence that mothers' milk protects against lymphoma and carcinomas.
Several studies indicate that breast feeding may induce an infant's immune system to mature more quickly than that of a formula-fed child. For example, breast-fed babies produce higher levels of antibodies in response to immunizations. And animal studies indicate that the intestines develop faster in newborns that nurse on mother's milk.
For these reasons the Academy of Pediatrics has some strong recommendations:
-Human milk is the preferred feeding for virtually all infants, including premature ans sick newborns.
-Breast-feeding should begin as soon as possible after birth, usually within the first hour.
-Newborns should be nursed whenever they show signs of hunger--increased alertness or activity, mouthing or rooting.
-No supplements (water, glucose water, formula, etcetera) should be given to breast-feeding newborns unless for medical reasons. Pacifiers should be avoided.
-Breast-feeding provides ideal nutrition. It is all an infant needs for optimal growth and development for the first six months.
Breast feeding also helps mothers. Nursing contracts the uterus and results in less postpartum bleeding and less menstrual blood loss over the months after delivery. Nursing women return to their pre-pregnancy weight earlier than those who don't nurse. Nursing improves bone strength (leading to fewer hip fractures in postmenopausal women) and reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and pre-menopausal breast cancer. Finally, beast-feeding is one of the best contraceptives going. It delays the resumption of ovulation in nursing women.
Despite these benefits, there are some situations in which breast-feeding should be avoided. A mother can pas harmful drugs and active infections to her child through breast milk. TB and HIV are prime examples. And infants who inherit a condition called galactosemia should not be breast-fed. Their inability to process one of the sugars in breast milk could lead to mental retardation. --P.R. Discover Magazine