Breast milk: baby's first food

Breast feeding your baby breast milk provides tons of great benefits. Here are some of the top things to learn.

Breast milk: baby's first food

Baby breast milk

To help your infant grow and develop so that they achieve optimal health, breast milk is one of the easiest ways of getting there. Since infants should be fed exclusively breast milk up to the age of at least six months, here's what you need to know to help your infant get there.

Benefits of breast feeding your baby

Physicians have discovered plenty of benefits when it comes to feeding your baby breast milk, especially in the first few weeks and months of life. Here are some of the most common and important ones.

  • Disease and infection: when babies are breast-fed, they tend to be far more resistant to the usual host of diseases and infections that can befall formula-fed babies and children.
  • Child and teen diseases: breast-feeding your baby can help set up him or her for a healthier life when they get older. They tend to be at less risk for juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease and cancer by the time they reach age 15.
  • Osteoporosis: for mothers, breast-feeding also has a beneficial effect. Studies have shown their bones are less likely to be become brittle and frail, decreasing the risk for osteoporosis.
  • Cancer: again for mothers, breast-feeding can keep them healthier in other areas of life. Women who breast-feed tend to be able to lose their pregnancy weight more easily and may have a lower risk of getting breast, uterine or ovarian cancer.
  • Intelligence: there's no iron-clad link, but there is pretty strong evidence that babies who were breast-fed scored higher on intelligence tests and teacher ratings based on academic performance.
  • Budget: breast milk is far less expensive than formula, so breast-feeding your baby can help put dollars back in your wallet so you can save it for another area.
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): babies who are breast fed, researchers have found, tend to be less likely to suffer from SIDS than formula-fed infants.
  • Allergies: strengthening a baby's immune system is the goal of every mother, and breast-feeding her baby can be one of the best ways of getting there. Eczema is far rarer in breast-fed babies than in formula-fed babies, and the reduced likelihood of allergies seems to be quite strong among babies and mothers when the parents have allergies.

How much breast milk to feed your baby

Each infant will have its own special dietary needs and amounts, but there are a few general ways you can tell how much or little to feed your baby. Some questions include:

How many wet diapers and stools does my baby have each day?

  • Look for regularity and consistency in your baby's stools. On average, an infant who's producing six or more wet diapers a day is probably eating the right amount for them. During the first couple months of your infant's life, you can expect to breast feed your baby about every two to four hours.

Is my baby growing?

  • Growth in any stage of life tends not to follow a strict linear sequence, but happens in spurts. The same goes for your baby, so focus on the big picture. When your baby is going through a growth spurt, they'll want to feed more, and more often. This can change as rapidly as over the course of a week, so don't get too alarmed if your baby seems to switch its hunger on and off like a light switch.

Does my baby appear hungry?

  • Don't get too fussed about feeding schedules for the first four or five months or so of your baby's life. If they're giving signs of needing to feed, follow their cues and try not to force feeding on them. They'll let you know when they're hungry. And if you're worried they're not eating enough, such as not feeding six to eight times a day, try stimulating them so they do consume a bit more.
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