“Breast milk is still best for babies up to 2 years of age and beyond.”
So goes the famous tagline we see in infant formula commercials, something most women overlook. I, for the life of mine, never fully understood the truth and intricacies of this slogan pre-motherhood. In fact, when I was still pregnant, I planned to breastfeed Lia only till she’s about 6 months; Formula starts from then on.
I didn’t see much need to breastfeed when she already knows how to eat solids.
Of course, that’s before the hospital where I gave birth in insisted that I breastfeed her exclusively even if I seem not to produce enough milk. The nurses expressed disagreement every time I asked if I could mix feed her with infant formula to ensure she gets sufficient milk. I couldn’t understand what the big fuss was all about (me and my siblings were all formula-fed), so I read up, and was surprised that being a
non-practicing nurse myself, there’s so much goodness in breastfeeding that I do not know.
There’s an art and science to it: the right feeding intervals, the right positioning, even the correlation of the baby’s poo color to one’s milk supply and how much time an infant spends suckling on each breast.
For one, breast milk isn’t only a source of sustenance, but also acts as an efficient barrier against disease. The hormones, antibodies, live enzymes, immunoglobulins and other compounds found in breast milk that are necessary for babies’ immune defense can not be replicated by any infant formula in the market. Breastfed babies need not receive multivitamins and supplements because breast milk already provides all the essential nutrients a baby needs – completely and naturally.
A mom’s milk adjusts according to the needs of the growing baby, such that supply increases the more a baby feeds (and also decreases if feeding intervals are prolonged or the demand is less). Antibodies in breast milk are also formed based on diseases that are currently present in the immediate environment.
And because direct milk feeding doesn’t use feeding bottles, there’s also much less risk of babies having colic and diarrhea.
So why is it best for a woman to breastfeed up to “2 years and beyond”? For tons of reasons.
Breastfeeding protects babies from allergies, infections and illnesses such as flu, eczema, respiratory and urinary tract infections, and the much dreaded SIDS. Breastfed babies also tend to be leaner than formula-fed counterparts because of breast milk’s anti-obesity properties. Suffice to say that unlike infant formula, you can never overfeed a baby with breast milk (so there’s no harm in feeding on a by-demand basis, especially in the first few weeks).
Its health benefits aren’t limited to the present. It has been proven that wholly breastfed babies develop higher immunity towards diseases later in life, including diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, arthritis, multiple sclerosis and Crohn’s disease.
Unlike infant formula which has synthetic compounds and bigger granules (which promotes constipation), breast milk is easily digestible by a baby’s small and still fragile digestive system, so you can expect bowel movement with every feeding. Associated risks brought about by infant formula such as iron-deficiency anemia are never an issue when breastfeeding.
Intellectually, babies who are breastfed develop high IQs. Breastfeeding also improves an infant’s motor skills, his hand-eye coordination, and teeth, jaw and speech development. As a result of close maternal ties, breastfed infants also grow socially adept.