Many new moms have heard that "breast is best" when it comes to feeding their babies, but they may not have all the facts on just what makes it best.
When you're making the personal decision about how to feed your child, it helps to know exactly why experts so strongly recommend breastfeeding.
Here are five major benefits of breastfeeding:
Providing an immune system boost
Breast milk contains antibodies, immune factors, enzymes and white blood cells – all of which can help protect your baby against diseases and infections, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Your baby will be less likely to have ear infections, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia and other common yet potentially serious ailments as a result.
Even better, this immune system boost can, in some cases, last after you've weaned your baby.
Building a strong emotional bond
Psychology Today touts the bond that develops between nursing moms and their babies. This is not only because of the close, extended contact but also due to the release of hormones in moms as well as their babies.
This close bonding is believed by many to help reduce social and behavioral problems later in life, the Cleveland Clinic says.
Improving brain development
Previous studies have linked breastfeeding to better cognitive outcomes in older adolescents and adults. A Brown University study now suggests that changes in brain development occur even earlier than that – "almost right off the bat."
Researchers used baby-friendly MRIs to look at the brain's white matter, which helps parts of the brain communicate with one another. Babies in the study who were exclusively being breastfed had 20 to 30 percent more white matter growth than babies who weren't.
Fulfilling your child's unique – and changing – nutritional needs
Breast milk changes composition to adapt to your child's nutritional needs, according to Psychology Today. It contains all the nutrition your baby needs for his or her first six months and continues to provide benefits beyond that.
And even if your baby is premature, the breast milk you produce in the first few weeks is also designed to meet your baby's unique needs. For example, it's higher in protein and minerals; it also contains different types of fat that can be more easily absorbed and digested by your premature baby.
Lowering your child's risk of SIDS
Breastfeeding is thought to lower your child's risk of SIDS – sudden infant death syndrome.
Medical experts usually recommend that to keep your baby safe, you should keep him or her in the same room if you'd like to, but not in the same bed. They suggest that breastfeeding moms keep their babies in a crib beside their own bed to make breastfeeding easier and keep babies safe from bedding or from being accidently rolled over on.
Need help or advice about breastfeeding?
If you'd like to breastfeed your baby but have concerns or want more information, hospitals usually employ lactation consultants who can help you and your baby with breastfeeding. To find one on your own, search at ilca.org/why-ibclc/falc.