Between my two kids, I breastfed for a total of six years. I exclusively breastfed for the first six months of each of them, and we extended the breastfeeding relationship to 2.5 years with my older one and 3.5 years with my younger one. I was often asked, “Isn’t that a lot of work?”
True, breastfeeding is a lot of work. But I think the benefits are worth it. Plus, breastfeeding actually saved me even more work. These are some works that breastfeeding saved me from.
- The work of picking the right formula milk: Mama’s milk is always the best. It’s genetically specific for the baby, and it meets perfectly for the baby’s needs. No need to compare and look for the top baby formula (really, does that even exist?) since I just breastfed.
- The work of supplementing babies with various nutrients: There are lots of advertisements out there, telling us that we need to supplement our babies with infant probiotics, iron, vitamins, fluoride… Luckily, breast milk is the most complete nutrition; it is the right balance of proteins, fat, carbohydrate, vitamins, antioxidants, enzymes and minerals, and more. This perfect combination provides babies with everything they need to grow and thrive. There is never a need to give a breastfeeding baby any probiotics or vitamin supplements, except maybe a little vitamin D.
- The work of “upgrading” formula milk: The cow’s milk-based baby formulas for babies up to 6 months of age are called stage 1 or starter formulas. You can use stage 1 formulas for 0-12 months. From 6 months, you need to change to stage 2 or follow-on the formula at some point. Then you need to change to the toddler formula. On the other hand, the nutrients of breast milk will change with the growth of the baby, and there is no need to change.
- The work of obtaining clean drinking water: The milk fresh from the breast is always clean and ready to drink, no additional water is required. While people in developed countries often take clean drinking water for granted, it is true that there are situations where drinking water can be difficult to obtain. I was an international disaster reporter for seven years and have been in such situations in person.
- The work of boiling water: Milk from the breast is always sterile and always at the right temperature for the baby to drink. There is never a need to worry about bacterial contamination due to insufficient heating, or the temperature being so high that burns the baby.
- The work of taking care of a sick baby: Breast milk contains antibodies, which protect babies from illness. It also contains immunoglobulin A (IgA), which coats the intestine of the baby to protect it from any digestive tract infection. IgA also protects the baby from any allergens and infections entering the bloodstream. Additionally, when the mom is ill, she makes antibodies in her body which process through the breast milk and pass immunity to the baby. Both of my little ones never got sick before they were six months old. I do believe it has a lot to do with breastfeeding.
- The work of soothing a baby with tummy troubles: Breast milk is a natural food for the baby. It is easy for the baby to digest; it can protect the baby’s gut health. Breastfed babies face fewer tummy troubles. They are less likely to have gas, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, gastroesophageal reflux or GERD, Gastroenteritis, gut infection, thrush, diaper rash, and many other problems.
- The work of washing bottles: In the first three months after my first child was born, I didn’t even have to wash bottles or breast pump accessories, because I just directly breastfed. Unfortunately, after my maternity leave was over and I started to pump, there seemed to be endless bottles and pump parts to wash. If only I could direct breastfeed for a longer period of time, that’d be heavenly.
- The work of treating a tooth cavity: Research shows that breastfed babies are less likely to develop cavities. My two children, now ages nine and four, have never had a cavity.
Last but not least, while I didn’t have premature babies, research shows that breast milk helps to protect premature babies from a life-threatening condition called necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). This is an infection of the intestinal lining that leads to severe inflammation and ultimately causes pieces of the intestine to die. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of NEC infection by up to 60 percent, and I imagine that breastfeeding can save a mom of a premature baby even more work—the work of having her little baby undergo surgery to correct NEC.