The Great Breastfeeding Debate: Should You or Shouldn't You?

This personal decision has been drawing a great deal of attention recently, so we decided to make a good old pro-and-con list. Here are the factors that are dividing us on breastfeeding - where do you stand?

PRO: It's convenient. You don't have to buy breast milk or make up bottles, which saves time - and money. (Formula can cost from $1,200 a year up to $2,400 or even more.)

CON: It's not easy - especially at first. "There's a two-week learning curve," says Loretta McCallister, a spokesperson for La Leche League International. She encourages moms-to-be to take a breastfeeding class and line up a place to go for support. Some women have a harder time than others for a variety of reasons, such as little breast tissue, nipple shape, narrow ducts, or low production.

PRO: It promotes bonding. "Women get a sense of well-being when they nurse," McCallister says. That's thanks to the feel-good brain chemicals called prolactin and oxytocin. But, adds Rebecca Booth, M.D., an ob/gyn in Louisville, KY, and the author of The Venus Week, "oxytocin is also secreted by touch, so the kind of contact you get from bottle-feeding works too."

CON: It keeps Mom hostage. Newborns tend to eat every two to three hours. Even if someone else handles occasional feedings, Mom's gotta pump.

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PRO: It helps moms heal faster. When women nurse, the release of oxytocin causes mild contractions that help the uterus shrink back to normal size.

CON: It can be extremely painful. One in four breastfeeding moms suffer bleeding nipples, uncomfortably engorged breasts, low-grade yeast infections on nipples, mastitis, and other complications, Booth says.

PRO: It prevents ovulation. If a woman is breastfeeding exclusively, she won't need birth control for the first six months. "As long as conditions are met, the chances of pregnancy are less than 2 percent," McCallister says.

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CON: Mom must watch what she eats and drinks. Too much caffeine, alcohol, some fish, spicy foods, broccoli, and many medications are frowned on while breastfeeding.

PRO: It reduces the risk of some cancers. Studies have shown that for every year a woman breastfeeds, she lowers her risk of breast cancer by up to 10 percent. Breast-feeding has also been shown to reduce the risk of ovarian and uterine cancers.

CON: It lowers libido. Because a woman typically does not ovulate while nursing, there is no natural testosterone surge to stimulate sex drive. An initial dip in estrogen may also cause vaginal dryness.

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PRO: It strengthens a baby's immune system - even if he gets only a few sips of breast milk in the first few days, says Mary Ellen Renna, M.D., a Woodbury, NY-based pediatrician and the author of Medical Truths Revealed! That's because colostrum, a thick yellowish substance that comes in before milk, is packed with immunoglobulins that kill bacteria and viruses.

CON: It derails your workday. Pumping is a must for nursing moms who work - but even if your job allows for pumping breaks, fitting in three (or more) of them a day can be challenging.

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PRO: It boosts brain function
, thanks to the omega-3 fatty acids in breast milk. (Although studies suggest that breastfed babies might have higher IQs, the difference is not significant. Also good to know: Many formulas contain omega-3s.)

CON: It's no magic weight-loss solution. While breastfeeding does burn up to 500 calories a day, it also lowers estrogen levels, making nursing moms insulin-resistant, so they process carbs less efficiently. The result: They tend to keep on a little more weight than non-nursing moms - about five to 10 pounds - until they stop.

Did you breastfeed? How did you make the decision? Why do you think this is such an important debate right now?

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