What parents say about breastfeeding

Mothers who have breast-fed their children list these advantages:

• Convenience. Many mothers find breast-feeding to be more convenient than bottle-feeding. It can be done anywhere, at any time, whenever your baby shows signs of being hungry. No equipment is necessary. Breast milk is always available — and at the right temperature. Because you don't need to prepare a bottle and you can nurse lying down, nighttime feedings may be easier.

• Cost savings. Breast-feeding can also save money because you don't need to buy bottles or formula.

• Bonding. Breast-feeding can promote intimacy and closeness between mom and baby. It can be extremely rewarding and fulfilling for you both.

• Rest time for mom. Breast-feeding also encourages you to rest every few hours while you feed your baby.

Breast-feeding can present challenges, such as:

• Exclusive feeding by mom at first. If you breast-feed exclusively, you must be with your baby for all feedings. In the early weeks, it can be physically demanding and tiring for the mother because newborns nurse every two to three hours — day and night — at first. Eventually, you can express milk with a breast pump, which will enable your partner or others to take over some feedings. But it will likely take a month or more before your milk production is well established enough to enable you to collect and store a supply for feedings by someone else.

• Restrictions for mom. Drinking alcohol isn't recommended for mothers who are breast-feeding, because alcohol can pass through breast milk to a baby. In addition, you may not be able to take certain medications while nursing.

• Sore nipples. Some women may experience sore nipples and, at times, breast infections. These can be remedied with the help of a lactation consultant or your health care provider.

• Other physical side effects for mom. When you're lactating, your body's hormones may keep your vagina relatively dry. This may not be conducive to your sex life, although using a water-based lubricating jelly can moderate the problem.

When breast-feeding may not be an option

Almost any woman is physically capable of breast-feeding her baby. The ability to do so has nothing to do with the size of your breasts; small breasts don't produce less milk than large breasts. Women who have had breast reduction surgery or breast implants may still be able to breast-feed.

However, some women may be encouraged to bottle-feed and not to use their breast milk. Discuss this option with your health care provider if:

• You're infected with tuberculosis, HIV, human T cell lymphotropic virus or hepatitis B. These infections can be transmitted to your baby through breast milk.

• You develop a herpes simplex infection, especially shingles (herpes zoster) on your chest.

• You develop West Nile virus or chickenpox (varicella). Using breast milk from a woman with these infections could pose a risk to the baby. Recommendations for women with these infections depend on their individual circumstances.

• You drink heavily or use drugs. Breast milk can pass alcohol and other drugs to your baby.

• You're taking certain cancer treatments.

• You're taking a medication that can pass into your breast milk and might be harmful to the baby, such as anti-thyroid medications, some blood pressure drugs and most sedatives. Before you begin breast-feeding, ask your health care provider, your baby's provider or a lactation consultant about whether you need to discontinue or change any prescription or nonprescription medications you're taking.

• You have a serious illness and aren't ready for the demands of breast-feeding.

• Your baby has a mouth deformity, such as a cleft lip or cleft palate. If so, he or she may have difficulty breast-feeding, necessitating that you use a bottle to feed. However, you do have the option of expressing breast milk and putting it in a bottle for your baby.

• Your newborn has certain health conditions. Some rare metabolic conditions, such as phenylketonuria (PKU) or galactosemia, may require using specially adapted formulas. The rare newborn condition lymphangiectasis may require a special formula.

• Your newborn doesn't grow well. Some infants with poor growth may need to have measured amounts of milk and nutritional supplements. Breast milk may be possible, but you may need to give it by bottle, tube or cup until growth improves.

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