Page last updated at 10:50 GMT, Thursday, 18 May 2000 11:50 UK

Breast vs bottle

Breast milk is highly nutritious
Health workers are keen to promote the advantages of breastfeeding.

Experts, including the World Health Organization, recommend that a baby is breast fed exclusively for at least the first six months.

However, many women still prefer to use formula milk, and campaigners argue that the government needs to do more to encourage women to breastfeed.

The benefits of breastfeeding include:

  • Nutrition: Breast milk is the ideal food for a baby. It is nutritionally balanced, with the perfect amount of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins and iron to help the baby to grow.

  • Boosting immunity: The baby receives the mother's antibodies to help it fight infection

  • Less likelihood that the baby suffers constipation, diarrhoea and wind

  • More protection against gastroenteritis, childhood diabetes, allergies like eczema and chest and ear infections

  • Convenience: There is no need to get up in the night to sterilise bottles. Breast milk is always at the right temperature, is available immediately, is easy for the baby to digest, contains all the nutrients the baby needs and is free

  • Reduction in the risk of the mother contracting early breast or ovarian cancer and fracturing her hips

  • A speedier return to the pre-pregnancy figure for the mother as breastfeeding helps the womb to contract and also burns up calories

The benefits of bottle feeding include:

  • Convenience: The mother does not have to do all the feeding and can leave the baby with others while she catches up on sleep or gets a break from the baby. Breastfeeding mothers can express their milk into a bottle to give themselves a break, but many find this uncomfortable

  • Less anxiety: The mother can measure how much milk the baby is taking in, although breastfeeding mothers can tell if their baby is not getting enough milk through monitoring their weight gain

  • More sleep: Formula milk is more difficult to digest for the baby so they tend to sleep longer.

  • Comfort: If a breastfeeding mother misses or delays a feed, her breasts may overfill and become painful and start leaking milk.

    Some women develop an infection called mastitis - painful, inflamed breasts.

    Others may experience lumps in the breast caused by blocked milk ducts.

    Both conditions can be treated, for example, by changing breastfeeding position. Women with severe mastitis may need antibiotics. Although organisations exist to help breastfeeding mothers, many complain that they still do not get enough advice.

    They often, for example, experience difficulty weaning babies onto formula milk once the baby is used to breast milk and they have to go back to work.

    Women who return to work can continue to breastfeed at night and in the morning while giving their baby formula milk during the day.

    However, they will not get as much protection as a baby who is wholly breast fed.

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