Although I have written before about breastfeeding and it’s benefits to mother and baby, I realise that I never really took an in depth look at how it was beneficial. After recently reviewing the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers, I thought I really ought to follow up with an article on how breastfeeding benefits babies.
Breastfeeding is one of the healthiest and most natural starts to life that a mother can provide for her baby. Yet at one stage, not all that long ago, even the doctors were encouraging mothers to offer formula milk to their babies and prescribing drugs to stop their breast milk production.
Though healthcare professionals these days now fully support breastfeeding, tradition is a little slower to change. Both the convenience of formula and the lack of awareness of the benefits that breastfeeding offers to mother and baby all contribute to the continued propagation of misconstrued beliefs surrounding breastfeeding. This is especially so from individuals who have never breastfed a baby, nor know anything about it.
I find it ironic and annoying that the ones most vocal against breastfeeding are the ones who have no experience or knowledge about breastfeeding – or at least whatever knowledge they do possess has been misconstrued.
There are so many benefits that breastfeeding offers to a baby that infant milk formula could never hope to compete against. And when you know of all the benefits that it affords, it is difficult to understand why a mother would choose not to breastfeed her baby.
So let’s take a look at those benefits:
1. Breast milk is nutritional. It is specially formulated by each individual mother for her individual baby. It contains just the right constituents for human development. The nutrients within breast milk will continue to change to suit the needs of the baby as the baby grows. How many milk formulas can make such claims? Additionally, infant formula is usually created from a base of cow’s milk. Cow’s milk is designed to grow a calf to a full grown cow in three years. A child at three years of age is hardly an adult.
2. Breast milk contains at least a hundred additional ingredients that formula does not. To date, no formula has been able to replicate breast milk exactly.
3. Breastfed babies have fewer illnesses because antibodies from the mother are passed to baby through the milk. Even if mother and baby fall ill, babies recover faster via the passing of mother’s antibodies to the baby through breast milk. This is the reason why most common illnesses are not an indication for mothers to stop nursing their babies. In fact, there are only a rare handful of medical conditions where mothers should not breastfeed their babies and these include HIV infection, tuberculosis, and human T-cell lymphotropic virus, certain chemotherapy treatments, and the use of illicit drugs.
4. Breastfed babies have been reported in studies to be less likely to develop allergies later in life. Breastfed babies are protected against allergies in two ways. Firstly, because they are exposed to less allergens in the first few months of life, whereas formula-fed babies come into contact with formulas based on cow’s milk and soy products. Secondly, babies’ immune systems are very immature and they require antibodies from their mothers. Their digestive systems aren’t ready for any other substances apart from their mother’s milk. Babies only begin to develop an immature, but functional immune system by about six months – hence the reason why exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months.
5. Studies have shown positive correlations that breastfed babies are less likely to develop obesity later in life. However, the manner in which breastfeeding protects babies against future obesity is still uncertain.
6. Research also shows that breastfed babies have more optimal brain development compared to their formula-fed counterparts, and that breastfed babies score higher on IQ tests. Whether this is due to the constituents in breast milk or simply the manner in which breastfeeding mothers handle their babies has not been determined.
7. Studies also show a positive correlation that breastfeeding lowers the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
8. Breast milk contains lots of good bacteria which is important for the colonisation of the gastrointestinal tract. The presence of good bacteria helps to prevent the growth of bad bacteria, thus helping to protect baby against illnesses.
9. Breast milk straight from the breast is sterile. There is no need to sterilise bottles and other feeding apparatus which can easily become contaminated.
10. No baby is allergic to their mother’s milk (although they may be allergic to some of the foods she eats, but this is easily rectified if the mother eliminates that food).
11. Breastfed babies are more likely to end up with straight teeth. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, the suckling action allows the baby to develop strong jaw muscles that encourage the growth of straight and healthy teeth. Secondly, since all sucking needs are met at the breast, the baby is less likely to suck on other things that can lead to malalignment of the teeth, such as pacifiers or thumbs.
12. Breastfed babies are also less likely to develop tooth decay compared to bottle fed babies. There are two reasons for this. Firstly, for breastfed babies suckling directly from the breast, the milk enters the mouth behind the teeth and is swallowed. There is no pooling of milk in the mouth which can lead to tooth decay. If the baby is not suckling, no milk enters the mouth. Secondly, breast milk contains lactoferrin which kills the bacteria that cause tooth decay.
13. Babies who are premature or born with medical problems have also been shown to benefit from breastfeeding. In the instance of a premature baby, breast milk helps to supply important nutrients required by the baby not only for survival but for immunity against possible infections.
14. Babies who are breastfed have a stronger bond with their mothers. Some studies have shown that breastfed babies grow up to be socially more independent than their formula fed counterparts. It is important to meet a child’s dependency needs as this is the key to helping a child achieve independence. Children who achieve independence when they are ready are generally more secure in that independence than children who have been forced prematurely into it.
15. Babies who are breastfed are generally held more closely than bottle fed babies. The skin to skin contact between mother and baby provides comfort for the baby that has just been removed from the protective environment of the womb. This is especially important during the early days as the baby is adjusting to the drastic change in environment. The birth experience can be especially traumatic for babies and having close, physical contact with their mothers can help to lessen the trauma.
The benefits that breastfeeding affords a baby are far too many to simply discount and ignore. If you want to give your baby the best start possible in life and build a strong foundation for the later years, then breastfeeding really is the way the go.