Breast milk provides ideal nutrition for babies. It has the perfect mix of vitamins, protein and fat – everything that your baby needs to grow and build immunity. It is all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula. While some women are unable to breastfeed, others simply choose not to. Yet studies show breastfeeding has big benefits, for both the mother and her baby.
Most health authorities recommend that baby should be exclusively breastfed for at least six months, after which continued breastfeeding is recommended for one year at least as different foods are introduced into baby’s diet. Breastmilk is a combination of everything the baby needs for the first six months of life, in the right proportions. Its composition changes itself in tune with the baby’s changing needs, especially during the first month of life.
During the initial days after birth, the breasts produce a thick and yellowish fluid called colostrum which is high in protein, low in sugar and loaded with beneficial compounds. Colostrum is very ideal and helps the newborn’s immature digestive tract. After the first few days, breasts will be able to deliver larger amounts of milk as the baby’s stomach grows.
Breast milk is an important source of antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. This particularly applies to colostrum, the first milk. Colostrum has high amounts of immunoglobulin A (IgA) apart from several other antibodies. When the mother is exposed to viruses and bacteria, her body starts producing antibodies. These antibodies get secreted into the breast milk and eventually pass on to the baby during feeding.
Immunoglobulins protect the baby from getting sick by providing a protective layer in the baby’s nose, throat and digestive system. It should be understood that formula doesn’t provide antibody cover to babies. Numerous medical studies have shown that the chances of health issues like pneumonia, diarrhea and infection are higher in babies who are not breastfed.
Antibodies, especially immunoglobulin A, present in breast milk prevent or fight off illness in your baby.
As we know, breast feeding has an impressive list of health benefits and this is particularly true when the baby is exclusively breastfed in the initial six months of life without any formula. It may reduce the baby’s risk of being vulnerable to many illnesses and infections like middle ear infections, respiratory tract infections, cold, gut infections, intestinal tissue damage, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), allergic diseases, celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes, fewer bouts of diarrhea and childhood leukemia. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.
These protective benefits of breast feeding seem to last throughout childhood and even adulthood.
Breast milk promotes ideal weight and helps prevent childhood obesity. Studies show that obesity rates are 15-30% lower in breastfed babies compared to formula-fed babies. This may be due to the development of different gut bacteria. Higher amounts of gut bacteria are seen in breastfed babies and these may affect fat storage. Apart from that, the amount of leptin is higher in breastfed babies compared to formula-fed babies. Leptin is a key hormone that regulates appetite and fat storage.
Breast feeding babies learn to self-regulate their milk intake, which will help them to adopt healthy eating patterns later in life.
Some studies indicate that there is a difference in the brain development between breast-fed and formula-fed babies. This difference could be due to the physical closeness, skin-to-skin touching, and eye contact, all help your baby bond with you and feel secure. Studies link breast feeding to higher IQ scores later in life. Moreover, breast feeding babies are less likely to develop problems with behavior and learning as they grow older.
Breast feeding adds immensely to long term brain development
Benefits of breast feeding are not limited to babies alone. Mothers also have numerous health benefits out of breast feeding. Breast feeding burns extra calories, so it can help you get rid of pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breast feeding also significantly brings down your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. In fact, women who breastfeed for more than 12 months during their lifetime have a 28% lower risk of both breast and ovarian cancer.
Recent studies have also suggest that breast feeding protects against heart disease and other related ailments. It may lower your risk of osteoporosis too.
Last but not the least, breast feeding saves time and money. Breast feeding is completely free and requires very little effort. By choosing to breast feed, you won’t have to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples, or warm bottles. It also gives you regular time to relax quietly with your newborn as you bond.
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