The TREMENDOUS Benefits of Doing What is Normal: Breastfeeding
By Darcia Narvaez, Ph.D. on August 3, 2011 - 12:40pm
In accordance with the World Health Organization's recommendations, Gossip Girl's Kelly Rutherford breastfed for over two years! Prolonged breastfeeding provides a baseline of health effects for mom and baby alike.
Breastmilk is not only the baby's food, but it's also the baby's jump-start on immunity, autonomy, emotional development, intelligence, and future outcomes. The effects of breastfeeding extend throughout all of childhood, not just infancy, and even into adulthood.
1. Breastmilk builds the immune system properly.
Breastmilk contains thousands of ingredients that build the child's immune system and prevent diseases and infections.1,2 Breastmilk:
Contains antibodies, anti-viruses, anti-allergies, and anti-parasites3
Reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)4-10
Is protective over the lifespan against high blood pressure,11-13 and cholesterol,14 cancer,15,16 diabetes17-20 and obesity.21-29
Is also protective against ear infections,30 respiratory problems,31 urinary tract infections,2 gastrointestinal problems2 and allergies32
Contains immunities that mothers have spent their lives developing, especially immunities from prevalent diseases in the immediate environment3
Additionally, exclusively breastfeeding coats the child's digestive tract and prevents the entrance of harmful pathogens into the body.2,3 Extended breastfeeding for at least one year, preferably two years, enhances the child's immune protection.2
2. Breastmilk changes with the growing nutritional needs of the child.
Breastmilk contains all the nutrition a baby needs for development during the first six months of life.2 After those six months, breastmilk still provides additional nutrition and immune system protection. Breastmilk:
Contains 200 fatty acid chains, including DHA/ARA, that the brain needs for development2
Provides hormones, growth factors, enzymes, minerals, vitamins, fat, carbohydrates, protein and water.3
Changes composition throughout each day, from feeding to feeding, from mother to mother, to adapt to the needs of the child. 33
The contents of breastmilk are specialized to fulfill the unique needs of each child. 33
3. Breastfeeding allows the child to regulate his own body and feedings.
At the breast, the child controls the size of each mouthful. The child is also able to regulate how much he eats and to stop when he feels full. This allows the child to grow in autonomy over his own nutritional needs and to learn how to read his bodily needs.
Bottles constantly drip milk into the baby's mouth which undermines the ability to self-regulate feedings. 34,35
A breastfeeding child develops strong facial muscles which align jaws and teeth in the growing baby.
4. Breastfeeding correlates with positive outcomes later in life.
The bond babies develop with their moms due to breastfeeding leads to better emotional development and stability.36 The act of breastfeeding and the skin-to-skin contact involved releases the hormones serotonin and oxytocin in both the mom and baby, which encourages a strong emotional bond between them.37, 38
Additionally, breastfed children are protected against mental health problems39,40 and addictions.41 They tend to be higher in intelligence42-46 and more emotionally secure36 than children who were NOT breastfed.47
5. Breastmilk benefits premature babies.
Breast milk is the best medicine for all babies including the premature.48,49 A mother's body will automatically produce milk that is specially designed to nourish her premature baby.23 Breast milk improves a premature baby's immune system defenses, digestion, brain development, and overall growth.48-54 Breast milk helps to prevent infection and even death in the premature baby.52,55
**Check out our YouTube video comparing breastfeeding with formula feeding.**
NOTE: Co-authored with Stephanie Siewswerda and Elizabeth Ledden
Prior post: Myths About Formula Feeding
Next post: 5 Things You Thought You Knew about Breastfeeding
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3) Walker, M. (1993). A fresh look at the risks of artificial infant feeding. Journal of Human Lactation 9(2). 97-107.
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19) Pettit DJ, Forman MR, Hanson RL, Knowler WC, Bennett PH. Breast-feeding and the incidence of non-insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in Pima Indians. Lancet. 1997;350:166 -168
20) Perez-Bravo E, Carrasco E, Guitierrez-Lopez MD, Martinez MT, Lopez G, de los Rios MG. Genetic predisposition and environmental factors leading to the development of insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus in Chilean children. J Mol Med. 1996;74:105-109