Breastfeeding is a personal decision, and you should not feel forced by outside pressure whether to nurse or not to nurse. Your situation may include unique circumstances in which breastfeeding might be impossible. Ultimately, you and your doctor are the ones to decide what is best for your baby.
With that being said, however, studies have shown that breast milk provides infants with ideal nutrition, and experts recommend that, if possible, you breastfeed for at least a short span of time, even if it’s less than the recommended six months. You and your baby both can reap breastfeeding benefits as a result.
The Relationship Between Breastfeeding and Baby’s Intelligence
Does breastfeeding really make babies smarter? For some, it may sound too good to be true, and indeed, some researchers remain skeptical, claiming that results indicating positive effects of breastfeeding on brain power are biased.
Nevertheless, while breastfeeding is unlikely to magically transform a child into a genius, different studies have shown again and again that children who are breastfed tend to have at least slightly higher IQ levels than those who are not. Even when controlling for other factors such as parental intelligence, education, employment, and income, one study found that children gained a 0.3-point intelligence increase by age three for every month they breastfed as infants. The gains for seven-year-olds were even more dramatic, with a 0.5-point intelligence increase for every month they breastfed as infants.
Breast milk contains a number of nutrients that aid in the development of your baby’s brain. These nutrients include the following:
- Taurine and other amino acids
- ARA, DHA, and other long-chain fatty acids
Formula manufacturers try to fortify their products with these nutrients, but it is difficult, if not impossible, to replicate them in just the right combination that occurs naturally in breast milk.
The simple act of breastfeeding can help improve your child’s eventual school performance in ways that have nothing to do with the chemical combination of breast milk. Breastfeeding helps to create a strong, loving bond between you and your baby, which can not only benefit mental development but also foster the confidence and self-esteem so often exhibited by top academic performers.
Other Breastfeeding Benefits for Baby
Even if the effects of breastfeeding on babies’ intelligence are exaggerated, nursing your child offers him or her a number of other potential benefits, both as a baby and into adulthood. Breast milk contains antibodies that help to boost your child’s immune system and prevent him or her from developing diarrhea, ear infections, and upper respiratory illnesses. Other potential benefits of nursing your baby include the following:
- SIDS prevention
- Better weight management
- Lowered risk of allergies/asthma
- Easy digestion
Though further research is needed to confirm, breastfeeding may also help lower the risk of developing certain cancers or diabetes.
Breastfeeding Benefits: Not Just for Baby
As a nursing mother, the advantages of breastfeeding extend to you as well, psychologically as well as physically. The emotional bond that forms between you and your baby while nursing is a two-way process from which you both can benefit. Having a baby is stressful, especially if this is your first child, and breastfeeding can help you feel more confident and secure. Some studies suggest that breastfeeding can reduce the risk of postpartum depression.
Breastfeeding releases hormones that help your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size more quickly, as well as providing a natural form of birth control by suppressing ovulation. Nursing your child can save you time and money because you don’t have to buy expensive formula or prepare bottles. It also offers you health benefits, such as lowered risk of osteoporosis, breast cancer, or ovarian cancer, and it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster by burning extra calories.
Breast Milk in Bottles
Sometimes issues arise that prevent you from successfully nursing. However, even if your baby cannot feed directly from your breast, it doesn’t mean that he or she has to go without the benefits of drinking breast milk. In many cases, you can use a device to pump the milk from your breast and put it in bottles. In some ways it’s more inconvenient, but it allows your baby to receive the same nutrients and many of the same benefits as nursing.
Be aware that you shouldn’t keep switching your newborn back and forth between bottle and breast, at least not until he or she is at least four weeks old. This can cause “nipple confusion” and make it harder for your baby to nurse.