Benefits of Breastfeeding
We all know that ‘breast is best’ when it comes to infant nutrition. But may not know the many ways that breastfeeding and breast milk is superior to bottle-feeding and infant formula. This article lists a number of benefits to babies and mothers linked to breastfeeding.
- RN, RM, CHN, MHN, IBCLC
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For a baby
1. Breastmilk has superior nutritional composition
Your breastmilk is nutritionally balanced and has the exact combination of water, carbohydrates, protein, fats, vitamins, minerals, enzymes and antibodies your baby needs. What's more there are hormones and other growth factors in your milk that make important contributions to your baby's growth and development.
Your breastmilk is constantly changing in its composition throughout the day and throughout the course of lactation to meet the changing needs of your growing child.
2. Breastmilk contains enzymes that improve digestion
Young babies (less than 6 months) have an immature digestive system. Their gastrointestinal tract does not produce digestive enzymes as a child or adult does. Babies can digest breastmilk more easily than infant formula because breastmilk contains enzymes (amylase and lipase) that aid digestion.
3. The protein in breastmilk is easily digested
The protein in your milk will form softer curds in your baby's stomach than does the protein in infant formula (most of which are based on cow's or goat's milk or soy). Breastmilk is digested in shorter time (approx 1.5 hours) compared to infant formula (approx 3 - 4 hours).
Your milk contains less protein than infant formula. However, virtually all of the protein is digested and absorbed into your baby's system, whereas about half of the protein in infant formula passes through a baby's body as waste product. (That's why formula fed babies have larger, firmer stools than breastfed babies.)
4. Breastmilk provides a natural laxative effect
Due to the ease of digestibility of breastmilk there is less waste product. Combined the natural laxative effect of breastmilk, breastfed babies rarely become constipated.
5. Breastmilk reduces the risk of infection
When babies are born their immune systems are very immature; this means they are susceptible to many different illnesses and allergies. A breastfeeding mother gives her baby immunities to illness to which she is immune, each and every time she nurses.
Breastmilk contains a variety of immunological, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory agents that protect against infection. Approximately 80% of the cells in breast milk are microphages, cells that kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. Breastfed babies experience a significant decrease in the incidence of respiratory illness, gastrointestinal illness and urinary tract infections compared to formula fed babies. Breastfeeding has been show to decrease the severity of conditions such as diarrhea, ear infections and bacterial meningitis.
The pH balance of breastmilk differs to that of infant formula. The pH of breastmilk aids the growth of friendly microbes (probiotics), specifically lactobacilus bifidus, which prevent the growth of more harmful organisms.
Unlike infant formula, breastmilk is sterile (it has no germs). It does not need to be stored and it does not become contaminated by polluted water or dirty bottles, which can lead to diarrhea in infants.
6. Breastmilk reduces the risk of many diseases
The protective benefits of breastmilk provide a lifelong advantage of decreasing the risk of many debilitating conditions developing, such as asthma, juvenile diabetes, celiac disease, rheumatoid arthritis, high cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, multiple sclerosis, liver disease, acute appendicitis and childhood cancers, such as leukemia.
7. Breastmilk protects against allergies
The protective benefits of breastmilk also reduce the incidence of allergies. Conditions such as eczema, food allergies, respiratory allergies and asthma, occur less commonly in breastfed babies. When they do occur, the severity of symptoms is reduced.
Cow's milk and soy, which are the two most common types of infant formula, are also the two most common allergens responsible for food and milk allergies and intolerance in infants. Human babies are never allergic to human milk.
8. Breastmilk has a low renal solute load
Renal solute load represents the amount of waste products excreted by the kidneys, per liter of milk consumed. The major determinants of renal solute load are dietary protein and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium and chloride. Breastmilk has a low renal solute load compared to infant formula. This means by breastfeeding your baby there is less work for his developing kidneys, compared to the load if he was formula fed.
9. Breastfeeding enhances neurological, visual and oral development
Studies have shown that fats (essential long chain fatty acids) found in breastmilk plays an important role in a baby's brain development. In some studies, breastfed children have shown have higher IQs than formula fed babies when tested at 7.5 to 8 years.
Visual acuity is higher in babies who are breastfed. The same fats that enhance brain development also enhance retinal development. Similar fats are now being added to some infant formulas; however any benefits of providing these in formula have not been clearly demonstrated in independent studies (i.e. studies not done by infant formula manufacturers).
Breastfeeding strengthens facial muscles, improves coordination of the mouth, lips, tongue and jaw muscles, thereby enhancing speech development.
10. Breastfeeding promotes jaw and tooth development
Unlike bottle feeding, which involves mostly a sucking action, breastfeeding involves a coordinated tongue and jaw movement. It requires more work for a baby to breastfeed than it does to bottle feed. This exercise strengthens the child's jaw.
Children who were breastfed have better overall dental health than children who were formula fed.
11. Breastfeeding reduces the likelihood of overfeeding
Breastfed babies can control the flow of milk from a breast, whereas bottle fed babies cannot always control the flow of milk from a bottle. The suck reflex (which is an involuntary action) is strongest in babies younger than 3 months of age. When a nipple stimulates a baby's palate it triggers the suck reflex.
Bottle feeding requires a sucking action only; whereas breastfeeding requires a coordinated tongue and jaw movement (sucking alone will not continue the flow of milk from a breast). A bottle fed baby may overfeed simply because she has no control over this suck reflex, and the resulting flow of milk from the bottle.
12. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of obesity
Since breastfed babies are able to follow the demands of their appetite, breastfeeding may help reduce the chance of becoming over-weight.
13. Increased mother-infant bonding
Busy parents can be tempted to prop feed a bottle fed baby, providing no human contact during feeding, but a nursing mother must cuddle her infant closely many times during the day.
For a nursing mother
1. Breastfeeding cause your uterus to contract faster
Breastfeeding immediately following delivery causes the uterus to contract, lessening the risk of postpartum hemorrhage. Each time you breastfeed your baby it releases a surge of hormones which helps your uterus to contract and shrink more quickly to its pre-pregnant size.
2. Breastfeeding enhances bonding between mother and baby
Breastfeeding creates a wonderful bond between mother and baby in a way that cannot be matched by bottle feeding. For working mothers, breastfeeding is a great way to maintain this special closeness to their baby.
3. Breastfeeding increases self esteem
Many nursing mothers feel a special satisfaction in knowing that they alone are meeting the nutritional needs of their baby.
4. Breastfeeding reduces fertility
The return of fertility is delayed with breastfeeding. Frequent breastfeeding stimulates the production of the hormone, prolactin. Prolactin suppresses ovulation, making it less likely for a nursing mother to ovulate, menstruate or get pregnant. Although the risk of pregnancy is reduced there are no guarantees so it's advisable that you also use additional birth control methods.
5. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of anemia
The delayed return of your periods, although a benefit in itself, has the additional benefit of reducing the risk of anemia, because your iron stores are reserved while you are not menstruating.
6. Breastfeeding aids weight loss
A nursing mother can lose much of her pregnancy weight faster than if she were bottle feeding her baby. Breastfeeding requires an additional 500 calories per day. If you eat sensibly, you will find you can eat many small meals a day and lose weight without dieting.
7. Breastfeeding is a natural stress reducer
Breastfeeding can help you to relax. The hormone prolactin, which is released during nursing, promotes a feeling of relaxation and well-being. Prolactin levels are highest at night, so mothers who breastfeed their babies during the night are getting larger doses of this relaxing hormone. This helps a nursing mother to return to sleep quickly after nighttime feeding. Prolactin also promotes a deeper sleep, which enables a mother to feel more rested in a shorter amount of time.
8. Breastfeeding decreased the risk of osteoporosis
Osteoporosis (a loss of bone tissue) occurs less often in women who breastfed. Osteoporosis may cause one out of every three women over the age of 50 years to experience a hip fracture in their lifetime.
9. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of certain cancers
Breastfeeding mothers are less likely to develop pre-menopausal breast cancer, ovarian, uterine and cervical cancers.
10. Breastfeeding is inexpensive
Breastmilk is free. Bottle feeding can become expensive. The cost of infant formula alone for 12 months is approximately $1000 to $1200. Add to this the cost of bottles, nipples and sterilizing equipment.
11. Breastfeeding is convenient
Breastmilk is always ready to use at the perfect temperature. There are no bottles to sterilize and no formula to buy, measure and mix. Nighttime nursing is easier and less disruptive as there is no waiting around trying to pacify a hungry, crying baby while bottles are warmed. Traveling is a breeze as there's no need to store formula in cold compartments, or worry about milk spoiling.
12. Breastmilk results in less smell
Your baby's bowel movements will smell less offensive. Spit ups from a breastfed baby don't stain clothing or smell as much as infant formula.
Written by Rowena Bennett
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