WHY BOTHER BREASTFEEDING? THE BABY'S BRAIN AND IMMUNE SYSTEM

theAs a mom-in-the-making, you may have thought about breastfeeding. But you're not really sure if you want to, especially after you talked to one of your friends who told you how she is still restricting her diet or how she is having to pump her breasts at her job to make sure she can keep her supply going and so the baby has enough while she's working. Or your own mother reminds you that you were bottle fed, and she thinks you turned out pretty well (whether you agree with her or not).

So why bother? That question might be best answered by another set. Why do the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians,          (formerly known as the American Dietetic Association) and the World Health Organization and UNICEF not only recommend breastfeeding, but doing so exclusively for 6 months? And why would the US Department of Health and Human Services actually set goals for breastfeeding in their Healthy People campaigns?

IMMEDIATE IMPACT

A whole host of immune factors cross from moms to their breastfed babies, enhancing their ability to fight infection. The dense first milk, or colostrum, is loaded with antibodies, enzymes, and the mothers' own cells that boost the  babies' otherwise vulnerable immune system. The mothers' cells seem to be particularly important because they continue to form and provide these protective proteins.

Additionally probiotics pass to the babies. As you know, these favorable bacteria and yeasts populate the babies' intestinal tract and help to prevent infections. But you may not know the true importance of that those first colonies. They stay for the rest of the babies' lives. They are almost indestructible.

When an individual gets an infection later or when antibiotics are given for that infection, the intestinal  flora (the term for the bacterial and other species that inhabit the intestine) is temporarily changed, but gradually this population returns to what was introduced shortly after birth. How? Breastmilk also supplies the food for the flora, so that the flora becomes so strongly entrenched that it remains there forever.

THE RESULT

All of these protective factors work incredibly well together. They decrease the frequency of respiratory infections (including ear infections) and diarrheal diseases, lessening doctor's visits and parents' missed work. Importantly, the potential for more severe illnesses, like bacterial meningitis, is also decreased; and necrotizing enterocolitis, is also reduced in vulnerable premature infants.

Babies who are breastfed also have less Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and less gastroesophageal reflux as well. We're not sure the reasons, but the results are clear and obviously significant.

LONG-TERM BENEFITS

The amazing part, at least to me, is that breastfeeding for just a few months actually conveys ptoective benefits far beyond infancy (see the table). Those who were breastfed in infancy have less chance of becoming obese adults with less diabetes as well. Even before that they have fewer allergies, asthma, and childhood cancers; and later, they have less osteoporosis and vision defects.

And as I detail in What to Feed Your Baby, breastfeeding enhances brain and nerve development with breastfed infants having higher average IQs--not just in infancy but on into adulthood. And more recent research documented on other posting in this blog, show that the longer an infant is breastfed, the higher the IQ goes up (1 point for every month of breastfeeding).

Advantages of Breastfeeding for the Baby

   

Short-term/Immediate   Benefits

     

Long-term Benefits

     

Decreased incidence of   infections such as

     

Decreased risk of developing

 

-            diabetes

 

-            asthma

 

-            childhood cancers

 

-            rheumatoid arthritis

 

-            osteoporosis

 

-            vision defects

 

-            obesity

     

-            diarrheal disease

 

-            influenza

 

-            necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)

 

-            herpes simplex

 

-            respiratory synctial virus (RSV)

 

-            ear infections

 

-            respiratory infections (i.e., bronchitis)

 

-            bacterial meningitis

       

Decreased incidence of illnesses   such as

       

Enhanced development and   intelligence:

     

sudden infant death syndrome   (SIDS)

 

gastroesophageal reflux (GER)

 

multiple sclerosis

     

higher IQ

 

cognitive and social development

       

Protection from allergies

       

Improved dental health

 

Source: Bailey Koch, RD, CSP, www.nutrition4kids.com.

BOTTOM LINE

in essence, breastmilk is very nutritious, very beneficial brain food. Optimizing a baby's growth, improving his or her immune function, with the benefits continuing into adulthood. No wonder it's the gold standard that all the milk-based formulas try to mimic.