Benefits of Breastfeeding

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Introduction

Breast milk is the perfect food for infants. All major health authorities recommend that infants receive breastmilk exclusively for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding for at least the next year or two years. Scientific research continually recognizes that the unique combination of nutrients, enzymes, and antibodies, the levels of which are automatically adjusted in breastmilk according to the needs of the infant, are not replicated in replacement foods. The intimacy and development of deep relationship between a nursing mother and her infant are equally important.

However, in only 50% of the regions of the world is exclusive breastfeeding practiced. The reasons are many. Birthing practices may not encourage breastfeeding; women are not given enough information about the health benefits of breastfeeding for their infants or themselves, and are not supported in learning the art of breastfeeding; work place environments are not conducive to breastfeeding, and public places can be even less inviting and supportive; maternity leave in many countries is non-existent or inadequate. But a main deterrent to breastfeeding is the aggressive marketing of breastmilk substitutes, especially through the use of discharge packets in maternity health clinics and hospitals, and through inappropriate advertisements, direct marketing to parents and health practitioners and other violations of the World Health Organization (WHO) International Code of Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes (the International Code). All of these factors discourage breastfeeding to the detriment of optimal health or the baby and the mother.

Because of its high fat content, breastmilk is a good medium for the testing (biomonitoring) of environmental contaminants. Research indicates that environmental contaminants have accumulated in the body tissues of all humans around the globe. When the mother's body produces milk for the baby, environmental contaminants stored in her tissues become part of the contents of breastmilk. By analyzing breastmilk for the presence of low levels of chemicals considered to be toxic, such as Persistent Organic Pollutants, researchers as well as communities can learn more about exposure pathways and the levels of such chemicals found in all human bodies. However, research also indicates the overall benefits of breastmilk include capacities that protect the nursing child from the effects of such environmental contaminants. Dr. Kim Hooper has stated, "In cases where the environment contains high levels of POPs chemicals, breastmilk is over more important for the health of the infant."

As we continue to conduct breast milk biomonitoring studies in various countries through out the world, it is important to create and maintain an environment that supports breastfeeding.

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Breastfeeding and the Developing Immune System

Numerous studies from around the world have shown that diarrhea, lower respiratory illnesses, and ear infections happen less often in breastfed babies, and are less severe when they do occur. Exclusive breastfeeding (meaning no solid food) for at least six months seems to offer the most protection.

Researchers have found that immune factors that are present in colostrum (the first milk your body produces) guard against invading germs by forming a protective layer on your baby's mucous membranes in his intestines, nose, and throat. The main immune factor at work here is (immunoglobulin A). It's present in large amounts in colostrum – which is why it's important to start nursing your baby right after birth – but is also found in lower concentrations in mature milk (www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/benefits.asp).

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Breastfeeding and Allergies

Several studies have found that breastfeeding for six months or more makes it less likely that your baby will go on to develop food or respiratory allergies. One study found that preterm infants from families with a history of allergies had a lower risk of developing eczema than their formula-fed peers. A second study found that exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first four months after birth reduced a child's risk of developing asthma by age 6. Scientists think that the fatty acids and immune factors such as IgA in breast milk prevent allergic reactions by stopping large foreign proteins from getting into a baby's system (www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/benefits.asp).

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Breastfeeding and Neurological Development

Several studies have found a possible connection between breastfeeding and higher IQs. Experts say that the emotional bonding that takes place during breastfeeding probably contributes to some of the increase, but that the fatty acids in breast milk may play the biggest role in a baby's brain development. Breast fed children tend to develop fewer psychological, behavioral, and learning problems as they grow older as well.

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Breastfeeding and Metabolism

In May 2005, after conducting a review of 61 studies related to infant feeding and later obesity, researchers concluded that early breastfeeding is linked to a reduced risk of obesity. Experts think that breastfeeding may affect later weight gain for several reasons: Breastfed babies are better at regulating their feedings, leading to healthier eating patterns as they grow. Breast milk contains less insulin than formula (insulin stimulates the creation of fat). Breastfed babies also have more of the protein hormone leptin in their systems, a substance that researchers believe plays a role in regulating appetite and fat. Compared with breastfed babies, formula-fed infants gain weight more rapidly in the first weeks of life, which is associated with later obesity. (www.babycenter.com/0_how-breastfeeding-benefits-you-and-your-baby_8910.bc).

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Breastfeeding and the Health of the Mother

Breastfeeding also provides a variety of health benefits to the mother. Women who breastfeed tend to lose less blood during the postpartum period and in turn this helps to protect against anemia.

Women who lactate for 2 years or more reduce their chances of developing breast cancer by 24% and they are less likely to develop uterine, endometrial, or ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also decreases a mother's chances of developing osteoporosis later in life. Women with Type I diabetes prior to pregnancy tend to need less insulin while they breastfeed due to reduced sugar levels (www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/benefits.asp).

The production of the hormone oxytocin during breastfeeding helps the uterus contract down to its pre-pregnancy size. Mothers burn 200-500 calories a day when they are exclusively breastfeeding their baby and therefore they are more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy weight than mothers who formula feed. Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is an effective method of birth control for spacing out subsequent pregnancies. (www.4woman.gov/Breastfeeding/index.cfm?page=227).

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Economic Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months improves health outcomes for babies all over the world and is cost effective. It also reduces the need for costly health services that must be paid by insurers, government agencies, or families. Premature infant's who do not receive human milk tend to stay in the NICU longer due to complications and they tend to have more health problems as they develop.

Because this amount of money will seem over the top to Global South countries…and will stand out as no other fact will. And I would move the following sentence to some other section, since it is a matter of grief and loss, not economics.In developing countries, it is estimated that 3,564 of the world's children under 5 die each day from causes that are preventable through optimal breastfeeding (www.usbreastfeeding.org/Issue-Papers/Economics.pdf)."Breastfeeding is a natural safety net against the worst effects of poverty," giving babies from differing socioeconomic backgrounds a fair start at life. (www.kellymom.com/writings/breastfeeding/bfquotes.html).

Human milk is a valuable resource. (Note: Many women lose the ability to breastfeed due to DDT exposure, stress, etc, so this sentence is inaccurate.) Breast milk is usually present as soon as the baby arrives, in the quantity that the baby needs and for as long as mom and baby want it at no additional cost. Breastfeeding does not require spending time boiling water and mixing it with breastmilk replacements such as liquid or powdered formula is water added to liquid formula. (www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/benefits.asp).

One way to encourage breastfeeding is by educating new mothers about the benefits of breast milk and providing them with culturally appropriate support during the breastfeeding period. A woman's ability to produce all the nutrients that her baby needs can be a very empowering experience. Breastfeeding provides an automatic, skin-to-skin closeness that facilitates and enhances bonding between a mother and her baby. While breastfeeding, a woman's body produces oxytocin, a naturally occurring hormone, that helps a mother feel a stronger connection to her baby. This "hormone" helps ease anxiety by stimulating feelings of peace and wellbeing while breastfeeding. (source: www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/benefits.asp).

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