The benefits and challenges of breastfeeding for new parents

One of the most important decisions an expecting person must make is
whether to feed their newborn baby breast milk or formula. Both approaches
have pros and cons worth considering and there are

many factors that can impact this decision
. For these reasons, it’s important to support new parents in whatever
choice they ultimately make.

The benefits of breastfeeding

The

American Academy of Pediatrics

recommends that parents feed their infants breast milk exclusively for six
months after birth, and then keep it in their diet for at least a year as
new foods are introduced.

Breastfeeding can offer both a parent and child significant physical and
mental health benefits. The major benefit of breastfeeding — beyond
naturally providing all of the nutrients needed for an infant to grow into
a healthy toddler — is passing on the antibodies contained in breast milk
that help protect babies from common childhood illnesses as well as

health complications later in life
. Through breast milk, babies are also exposed to a variety of food flavors
that may help them more easily accept solid foods in the future.

For the parent, breastfeeding can make it easier to lose weight after
pregnancy and may also reduce their risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer,
type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure. Breastfeeding also

produces stress-reducing hormones

that can help sooth a nursing parent, and helps form an emotional bond with
the baby through skin-to-skin contact.

The benefits of formula

Despite the health benefits of breastfeeding,

it’s not always an option for new parents. Frequent feedings at all hours and the need to pump during working hours
can make it almost impossible for many to meet their babies’ needs with
only breast milk.

Some health conditions can result in a

low supply of breast milk

and can even

make breastfeeding unsafe
. Others may find it uncomfortable, and even painful. Formula feeding can
provide the flexibility needed to navigate many of these challenges while
still ensuring that the child receives the nutrition required for healthy
development.

Ultimately, the

choice between breastfeeding and formula feeding

comes down to personal preference and many factors often outside a person’s
control. What’s most important is that a choice is made in consultation
with a healthcare provider in a way that accommodates both the needs of the
parent and child.