Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant is solely breastfed with no additional bottle feeding of formula, water, or solid foods. Most physicians recommend that babies be given only breast milk for the first six months of their lives. This provides optimal nutrition and many other benefits that formula cannot supply.
Neonatal breastfeeding has been proven to reduce the risk of infant death, especially in less-developed countries where there is a risk of malnutrition. Breast milk also contains colostrum, a thick yellow substance that has antibacterial and antiviral properties. It also supplies a significant amount of vitamin A, which helps to prevent disease.
One of the best reasons to breastfeed is that it provides the infant with a complete, whole food. Breast milk is nutritionally balanced in that it provides fat, protein, vitamins and minerals. It is also 88% water; as a result, breastfed infants are well hydrated. When breastfeeding a newborn, a hygienic and safe food source is always readily available. It is much more convenient than having to tote bottles of formula around, which have to be sterilized, refrigerated, and then warmed before feeding.
In addition to the health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding, it is also economical. Breast milk is free, while formula is exorbitantly expensive. It is also better for the environment because no energy is needed to prepare it, and no cans are thrown away.
Exclusive breastfeeding has a significant impact of the development of growing children, even when they are beyond the breastfeeding stage. Children who were breastfed tend to score higher on developmental and IQ tests than those who received formula, and they tend to have fewer weight problems. Premature infants that are breastfed also have better long-term developmental results than those who were on formula.
The are several maternal benefits from exclusive breastfeeding. Mothers tend to lose weight easier and have a lowered risk of certain cancers, for example. They also recover from delivery quicker and with less postpartum bleeding.
Infants should be breastfed up to 12 times a day or whenever they show signs that they are hungry. If four hours have passed since their last feeding, they should be offered the breast whether they act hungry or not. As babies grow, feedings will usually be decreased to about eight times a day. When they have reached six month of age, solid food is usually introduced. Most doctors suggest an easily digestible rice cereal for a newborn's first food.
It is important that breastfeeding mothers eat a healthy diet because the nutrients they consume are passed on to their infants. Exclusive breastfeeding mothers should never smoke or drink alcohol. Beverages containing caffeine should be limited. Some foods, including chocolate, garlic, and citrus fruits should be eaten in moderation because they can make the infant gassy.