The nutritional advantages breast milk provides translate into real, tangible short- and long-term health benefits for your baby. If you haven’t had a chance to read my first Benefits of Breastfeeding post which outlines how breast milk is superior to formula and and other types of milk, be sure to check that out before reading this post.
Before we dig in, I want to mention that the primary source I used in my research for this post is the report: “Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries.”1 This document includes information from 400 different studies on breastfeeding.
As the title states, it examines breastfeeding outcomes in only developed countries. This is significant because some argue that we see such positive outcomes from breastfeeding because parents in underdeveloped or third world countries don’t have access to good water supply or adequate breast milk substitutes. This report has taken that argument out of the equation.
Protection from Illness Now
When you breastfeed your baby, you’re giving your little one immediate protection from illnesses. Mothers milk contains millions of white blood cells and mom’s antibodies are passed directly to the baby via breast milk. Breast milk has antiviral, antibacterial, and anitparassitic factors all of which work together to keep your baby healthy. Breast milk has such amazing antiviral properties it actually appears to kill the HIV virus.2
Lisa Marasco and Jan Barger write in Examining the Evidence for Cue feeding of Breastfed Infants3 about the fascinating ability of a womans body to manufacture antibodies that a baby needs:
Even more amazing, if a baby contracts an illness that mom has not been exposed to previously, he will transfer this organism through his saliva to the breast, where antibodies are manufactured on site and then sent back to baby via the milk to help him cope. Mothers who wean their babies from the breast during the first and even second and third years of life often notice that their child becomes sick more than before, or for the first time.
What’s more, breast milk promotes healthy gut flora.4 Humans require certain bacteria in their intestines. These bacteria aid in nutrient absorptions and immune system development. This translates into infants that suffer from less gastrointestinal distress: less gas, diarrhea, and constipation. Researchers see a 64% reduction in non-specific gastroenteritis in breastfed infants compared with infants who were not breastfeeding.
There is also a 72% reduction in the risk of hospitalization due to lower respiratory tract diseases in infants less than 1 year of age who were exclusively breastfed for 4 months or more.
Less ear-infections are found in breastfed infants—23% lower incidence than exclusively formula-fed babies. Breastfeeding is also associated with a 36-50% reduction in the risk of SIDS compared to not breastfeeding. Those are some pretty amazing benefits!
Protection from Disease Later in Life
When you breastfeed you’re not only benefiting your baby in the immediate, but promoting life-long health. Breastfeeding has been shown to prevent everything from dermatitis to diabetes and many in between.
- Skin Problems - Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 3 months was found to have a 42% reduction in atopic dermatitis compared with breastfeeding for less than 3 months.
- Asthma - A minimum of 3 months of breastfeeding is associated with a 27% reduction in the risk of for those without a family history of asthma and a 40% reduction for those with a family history of asthma.
- Type 1 Diabetes - Babies who have been breastfed for at least 3 months have a 19-27% reduction in incidence of childhood Type 1 Diabetes.
- Type 2 Diabetes - There is a 39% reduction in risk of Type 2 diabetes later in life for people that were breastfed as infants.
- Cancer - Breastfeeding for at least 6 months is associated with a 19% decrease in risk of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia and a 15% decrease in the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia.
- Dental and facial development – Adults who were breastfed experience fewer cavities throughout life. Formula-fed babies can have more problems with jaw alignment and are more likely to need orthodontic work.
- Psychological, behavioral, and learning problems are less of a problem in individuals who were breastfed as babies.
- Better vision – Visual development is more advanced in breastfed babies being particularly noticable in babies born premature.
- Intelligence -Though intelligence is mediated by both genetic and environmental5 experiences studies6 have clearly shown a significant positive correlation between breastfeeding and intelligence.
- Obesity – Adults who have been breastfed are less likely to struggle with obesity as adults. One exception to this is when mom consumes a high quantity of trans-fats. This actually increases the chance that the baby will eventually be overweight, and increases mom’s chances of having weight problems, too. Breastfeeding moms (and everyone) should focus on healthy real saturated fats and omega-3 fatty acids (we’re focusing on that topic this month on Wellness Wednesdays!)
Breastfeeding offers your baby a clear advantage. It isn’t always something that comes easy to every woman, but it’s worth getting help and perserving. I hope this series of breastfeeding posts offers you the advice and encouragement you are looking for!
Why is breastfeeding important to you?