The Pros and Cons of Breastfeeding

Woman breastfeeding her son
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The decision to breastfeed or not to breastfeed is a personal one. There are so many wonderful reasons to breastfeed your baby, but there are a few disadvantages to nursing, too. By understanding the pros and cons of breastfeeding, it can help you decide what is right for you and your family.

Advantages

Here are the Pros:

  • Breastfeeding is natural: Breastfeeding is the most natural way to feed your baby. Your body was created as the ideal way to supply your child with the perfect source of nutrition.
  • Breast milk is the healthiest food for your child: Breastfeeding provides your baby with a variety of health and developmental benefits. The natural ingredients found in breast milk help protect your baby from illness and disease during infancy and continue to provide your child with better health as he or she grows.
  • Breastfeeding is good for your health: Breastfeeding provides health benefits for moms, too. Women who breastfeed tend to recover from childbirth faster than women who choose not to nurse their babies. Breastfeeding may reduce your risk of ovarian and breast cancer, and it could decrease your chances of developing osteoporosis and obesity as you age.
  • Breast milk tastes good to your child: Breast milk is sweet and creamy. It has a better flavor than formula.
  • Breast milk is easy for your newborn to digest: Your body makes breast milk specifically for your baby. It is easier to digest than formula and may help to prevent gas and colic. A breastfed baby's bowel movements are not as smelly, and they're not as irritating to a baby's skin. Breastfed babies don't usually get diarrhea or constipation, and they have diaper rash less often than formula-fed infants.
  • Breastfeeding is convenient: Your breasts are the perfect way to supply your baby with the optimal nutrition at the perfect temperature. You won't have to worry about preparing and heating formula, and there won't be any bottles to clean up after feedings.
  • It's economical: Breastfeeding can save you thousands of dollars. If you nurse your baby, you will not need to buy formula, bottles, and supplies. Breastfeeding also keeps your child healthier, so it can lower your medical costs as your child grows.
  • Breastfeeding is comforting: A scared, injured, or sick child can be more easily comforted by breastfeeding.
  • Nighttime feedings are faster and easier: When you breastfeed, you don't have to make and warm bottles in the middle of the night.
  • Breastfeeding is relaxing: While you're breastfeeding your body releases a hormone called oxytocin. Oxytocin is a feel-good hormone that promotes relaxation. Breastfeeding also provides you with time each day to take a break, sit down with your feet up, and spend quality time with your baby.
  • Breastfeeding delays the return of your period: Breastfeeding can prevent your period from returning for six months or even longer. Menstruation returns approximately one month after you stop breastfeeding exclusively.
  • Exclusive breastfeeding can prevent another pregnancy for up to 6 months: If you breastfeed exclusively without adding any supplements, your child is under six months old, and your period has not yet returned, then you can use the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM) for birth control. When you meet the criteria and follow it correctly, this natural birth control method is up to 98% effective.
  • You can pump: Pumping your breast milk can give you some freedom. It can make it easier for you to spend time away from your baby, allow you to continue to provide breast milk for your baby if you return to work, and give your partner the ability to participate in feedings.

    Disadvantages

    Here are the Cons:

    • You will have less freedom: When you breastfeed, you are always on call. You and your breasts need to be available for every feeding, day and night. It can be exhausting, especially during the first few months when you will be breastfeeding your baby every two to three hours around the clock.
    • Breastfeeding can be painful: You may have to deal with some uncomfortable or even painful common problems of breastfeeding, such as mastitis, breast engorgement, plugged milk ducts, and sore nipples.
    • Your partner can't breastfeed: Your partner might want to feed the baby and may feel left out of the breastfeeding relationship.
    • It can be stressful if you are very modest: You may feel uncomfortable and embarrassed about breastfeeding around others or in public. If you find it difficult to go out with your baby, you might end up staying home most of the time and feeling trapped or lonely.
    • Breastfeeding can be difficult to get started: Not all babies latch on immediately and breastfeed well. Breastfeeding might be harder than you think, and you may end up feeling disappointed or discouraged. For some, breastfeeding is a learning process.
    • You have to make the right lifestyle choices: You have to think about your diet and lifestyle choices when you breastfeed. Your baby may have a reaction to different foods in your diet. So you may have to stop eating dairy products or other items that you enjoy. Then there are obvious things that you should avoid like caffeine, alcohol, and nicotine which can be harmful to your baby. Stress and other factors can also affect breastfeeding and even decrease your breast milk supply.

    Making a Decision 

    Breastfeeding doesn't have to be all or nothing. If you decide to breastfeed exclusively, that's great. But, there are other ways that moms choose to breastfeed. Some moms partially breastfeed, some combine breastfeeding and formula feeding, and some pump exclusively. So, don't forget that you have options and you can choose what works for you.

    Where to Find More Information

    As you continue to think about breastfeeding, you can find helpful information in plenty of places. There are pregnancy and breastfeeding books, websites, and even classes you can take. You can talk to friends and relatives, and call or visit a local breastfeeding group. Your doctor is always a great source of information, as well.

    Sources:

    Eidelman, A. I., Schanler, R. J., Johnston, M., Landers, S., Noble, L., Szucs, K., & Viehmann, L. (2012). Policy Statement. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Section on Breastfeeding. Pediatrics, 129(3), e827-e841.

    Lawrence, Ruth A., MD, Lawrence, Robert M., MD. Breastfeeding A Guide For The Medical Profession Eighth Edition. Elsevier Health Sciences. 2015.

    Riordan, J., and Wambach, K. Breastfeeding and Human Lactation Fourth Edition. Jones and Bartlett Learning. 2014.

    U.S. Department of Agriculture. Nutritional Needs While Breastfeeding. ChooseMyPlate.gov.

    World Health Organization. Infant and young child feeding: model chapter for textbooks for medical students and allied health professionals. 2009.

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