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If you're having a baby, nature has arranged the perfect food for your child—breast milk. I breastfed my three strong and healthy children, much to the dismay of my family and friends. Even my mother, who breastfed me, was influenced by the times to believe that breastfeeding was old-fashioned. But I'm glad I followed my heart. Yoga has woken me up to nature's wisdom and the many benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and child, which I'd like to share with you.
First, here are some of the benefits for your baby:
• Breast milk protects baby from disease. Colostrum, the first substance to come from the breast, is rich in infection-fighting antibodies. It also contains living immune cells. The milk itself provides effective immunity against a number of infectious diseases, including mumps, diphtheria, salmonella, pneumonia, and other respiratory diseases. It also decreases the incidence of ear infections, diarrhea, and chronic diseases like diabetes, multiple sclerosis, and juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
• Breast milk contains all the nutrients a baby needs during its first months, including iron and vitamins C and E.
• Mother's milk is easy for baby to digest and utilize. On the other hand, about 50% of cow's milk passes through the body unused, creating extra work for the child's immature excretory system.
• Breast milk does not cause allergic reactions as cow's milk and infant formulas can. It is believed that early exposure to allergens can lead to more severe allergies later in life. This is especially important if you or your spouse have allergies, as your child can inherit this tendency.
• Breastfed babies have an almost pure culture of Lactobacillus in their intestinal tracts. These beneficial bacteria quickly multiply, helping to break down food, make vitamin K, and dispose of harmful bacteria. The breastfed baby's stools are small and sweet-smelling, sometimes occurring only every few days. On the other hand, bottle-fed babies have mostly putrefactive bacteria such as E. coli in their intestinal tracts. As such, their stools are usually large and have a stronger smell. These infants are more likely to come down with gastrointestinal diseases.
Now, some of the benefits for you:
• Mothers who breastfeed are less likely to get breast cancer. Nursing your child also protects against osteoporosis and ovarian cancer later in life.
• Breastfeeding makes it easier to lose the weight gained during pregnancy because milk production burns calories.
• In the first days after birth, baby's sucking at the breast causes the uterus to contract, which protects mothers from hemorrhaging and returns the uterus to its pre-pregnancy shape more quickly.
• Breastfeeding releases a natural tranquilizing hormone, prolactin, that helps keep you relaxed and calm—your baby will like that.
And last (but certainly not least) for both of you:
• Breastfeeding provides an important bond between mother and child that provides great emotional satisfaction for both. This satisfaction cannot be measured in scientific terms. It simply offers a close, intimate, peaceful, and relaxed time with the baby. It is a model of love—of one giving generously of oneself with no expectation of something in return.