(This post really is geared toward pregnant mothers who are trying to decide whether or not to “try” breastfeeding.)
Oddly enough, I typed this into a search engine to see what would come up, and not much did. Maybe it was the way I worded it (ie, if I put in “benefits of breastfeeding”, I wonder what would have come up?) However, I also wondered if perhaps we are not doing a great job in the medical world and the world of lactation consultants in getting the word out to the public about the very specific benefits of breastfeeding. Many mothers seem to “know” that breastfeeding *might* be better than not breastfeeding, but I wonder if mothers can think of very specific targeted benefits.
On that note, I thought I would write a list and have it handy on this blog. The references for this article came from the newly revised “The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding”, from Marsha Walker’s “Core Curriculum For Lactation Consultant Practice” and varioud PubMed studies.
Breastfeeding is the beginning of mothering. It is far more than just a way to feed your baby. The breast is the first place for a baby to go for warmth, security, love in addition to food. Breastfeeding is the place where you learn how to be attached and connected to your child.
Benefits For The Child:
Specific Components of Human Milk:
- Human milk is specific for our infants – mother’s milk matches more than 50 percent of the baby’s genetic material.
- Human milk is not “static” – there is colostrum from one to five days post-birth, transitional milk and mature milk. The composition of human milk also changes within one feeding period and changes over the 24-hour day.
- Human milk contains the aroma and flavors of the mother’s diet which is what the baby smelled and tasted in utero.
- Human milk has very little residual; the baby’s kidneys and liver don’t have to work as hard to digest human milk
- The protein in human milk is whey (in cow’s milk, the predominate protein is casein) –> the total protein in human milk is very low
- Human milk contains 19 amino acids essential to development. Taurine is essential for the development of the brain and the retina and other processes and is not found in cow’s milk.
- Human milk has mucins that kill cancer cells in vitro
- Human milk has Secretory IgA that coats the mucosal surfaces inside the baby’s gut and prevents pathogens from invading.
- Human milk has more than 40 enzymes in it for digestion and to stimulate neonatal development
- Human milk has hormones and hormone-like substances in it that provide anti-inflammatory properties.
- Human milk has growth factors in it that aid the growth of nerves, gut maturity.
- Human milk has lactose which assists in the absorption of calcium and iron
- Human milk has cholesterol which is very important in infants and small children in order to lay down myelin sheaths that surround nerve and increase nerve conduction. There typically is little to no cholesterol in formula.
- Human milk has fatty acids
- Human milk has Vitamin A, Carotene, Vitamin D, Vitamin D and Vitamin K – (Vitamin K is highest in colostrum), along with a wide range of water-soluble vitamins including Vitamin B12 and a wide range of minerals and trace elements.
- The iron in human milk is better absorbed due to the presence of lactose in milk.
- Human milk has lactoferrin that helps prevent necrotizing enterocolitis and prevents infection in addition to transporting iron.
- Human milk has interferon and interleukins that are anti-infectives.
- This is a lovely article about the specific components of human milk and how we are just starting to figure a few things out about it: http://www.babygooroo.com/index.php/2010/10/20/chasing-nature/
Specific Health Benefits for Infants and Children:
- Without human milk, an infant is at higher risk of ear infections, intestinal problems and respiratory problems
- Without human milk, an infant is more likely to have allergies and dental problems
- The nervous system and vision do not develop as well.
- If you do choose to vaccinate your breastfeeding infant or child, the effect of the vaccine will be more greater than in an infant or child who is not being breastfed
- The risk of SIDS is lower if your infant is breastfed.
- A breastfed infant has a lower risk of being diagnosed with Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, Type I diabetes, heart disease, and cancers.
- A formula fed infant is at higher risk for childhood leukemia and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
- Infants who are not breastfed react more negatively to stress later in life
- Infants who are not breastfed have higher risk of high blood pressure, obesity and type 2 diabetes.
- Formula fed infants demonstrate less advanced cognitive development compared to infants who were breastfed. IQ studies show that higher IQ’s are dose dependent relative to the number of months that a child was exclusively breastfed.
- An breastfed infant tends to have a palate and jaw shape that is more developed
- A nursing infant gets the opportunity to regulate their own intake depending upon whether they are thirsty, or hungry or super hungry!
- The immune benefits in breast milk go UP in toddlerhood.
Specific Benefits for Mothers:
Breastfeeding is a NORMAL step in pregnancy, birth and lactation
A post-partum breastfeeding mother’s uterus will contract and slow bleeding more quickly – post-partum maternal hemorrhage is a greater risk with formula feeding of an infant
If you breastfeed EXCLUSIVELY (no pacifiers, no solids, no formula, and your baby nurses frequently, ) the return of your fertility will be delayed. This helps assist in natural child spacing.
Breastfeeding helps many mothers lose weight.
Women who have never breastfed are at greater risk for metabolic syndrome where heart disease and diabetes are more likely.
Breastfeeding decreases your risk of breast, uterine and cervical cancer.
Breastfeeding decreases your risk of osteoporosis and fractures.
Depressed mothers and their babies are benefitted by breastfeeding, according to psychological studies.
A Normal Way to feed infants and children
Easy with no formula to prepare, no bottle to wash, no heating up
Always available, even in a natural disaster
I am sure I missed some specific benefits of breastfeeding; if you all think of one not on my list please add it to the comment box below!
For those of you having trouble with breastfeeding, here is an encouraging article about why women persist with trying: http://www.normalfed.com/Why/whydoing.html
For those of you who are extended nursing, here is a link to one mother’s story: http://www.babygooroo.com/index.php/2010/08/19/why-i-breastfed-for-three-years/
For those of you who truly tried everything and had to give your breastfeeding relationship up, please see this post: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2010/11/17/i-have-done-everything-and-breastfeeding-isnt-working-out/