To breastfeed or not to breastfeed: that is a decision that every mother must make after bringing a child into the world. At various times in history, such as the post-war 1950’s, breastfeeding went out of vogue. However, it is now widely recognised that mothers’ breast milk is far superior to even the most advanced baby formula, with the WHO recommending that, where possible, children be breastfed for two years at least. According to a 2007 Australian Senate inquiry into breastfeeding, 83% of mothers begin breastfeeding in the hospital. However, only 45% persist to the three month mark, and 14% to six months. While formula has admittedly saved the lives of countless infants who, for various reasons, have been unable to tolerate breast milk, if a mother is able to breast feed her baby, she should certainly do so. Let’s find out 10 reasons this is the case:
- Breastfeeding can help mother and baby to bond:
For all babies, but particularly for those who are born premature, close physical contact is very important. It can help them to be better able to regulate their body temperature, and feel more calm, comforted and secure. Skin-to-skin contact with her baby helps to increase the mother’s levels of oxytocin, a hormone which encourages the flow of breast milk, and can have a calming and relaxing effect on her. Breastfeeding helps to facilitate these benefits, as well as to encourage a bond and sense of attachment between the mother and baby.
- Breastfeeding is cheaper, safer and more convenient than formula feeding:
Formula costs a lot. Breastfeeding is free. Over the first few years of a baby’s life, think of how much money would be saved through choosing breastfeeding over formula feeding! It is estimated that formula costs upwards of $1500 a year! Additionally, since breastfed babies are usually sick less often than formula-fed babies, you may also save money in doctor bills! Sure, breastfeeding can be a lot of work initially, but once both mamma and baby have established a routine, in most cases it is quite easy.
On many occasions, baby formula has had to be recalled due to safety concerns over contaminated batches, which have sometimes been the cause of injury or death. On the other hand, breast milk cannot be contaminated with bacteria (with the exception of incorrectly-stored expressed milk), and even has antibacterial properties! The fact that water has to be added to formula powder means that, even in developed countries, the baby is more likely to be exposed to harmful elements such as fluoride, heavy metals and chlorine. In many cases, boiling does not remove these, but rather, concentrates them. Additionally, unlike many baby formulas, breast milk does not contain any genetically-modified ingredients or synthetic growth hormones.
Breastfeeding is far more convenient than formula feeding. It is the perfect temperature for your baby, which, in turn, helps to regulate your baby’s body temperature. The only supplies needed are your breasts! This means that (aside from expressed milk) there are no bottles to be cleaned and sterilised, and no storage required. There is no formula to be bought, measured out and mixed up—you can satisfy your baby’s hunger immediately. Breast milk also responds to demand from your baby—the more your baby feeds, the more milk is produced. This means that as your baby grows and needs more milk to be sustained, your body will produce enough to make sure his/her hunger is satisfied.
- Breastfeeding helps to provide your baby with all the nutrients needed:
Breast milk provides your baby with a far wider range of nutrients than any formula could. In your baby’s first few days of life, they will be fed with colostrum, which gives them the best possible start in life. Colostrum is filled with antibodies and white blood cells, perfect for fighting off diseases. It contains immunoglobulin IgA, which protects your baby until its own immune system has kicked into gear—it’s almost like a natural vaccination. Colostrum also acts as a laxative, getting your baby’s bowels moving, and expelling the meconium. Lastly, colostrum prevents the build-up of bilirubin in your baby, making it less likely your little one will experience jaundice. Even in cases where the mother is malnourished, the quality of the breast milk has been shown to be almost as high in nutrients as the milk of mothers who have a good diet which includes a range of vitamins and minerals.
It is not just colostrum, however, that helps baby’s immune systems—breast milk also contains antibodies, white blood cells, and probiotics, to keep your baby safe. When a mother comes in contact with a pathogen around her, she creates antibodies to fight it, this is then passed into the breast milk and on to her baby. Since, in most cases, the mother and baby are in the same environment, and, therefore, exposed to the same germs, the baby should be protected from pathogens which put his/her immune system at risk.
Unlike formula, breast milk changes over time, to respond to the needs of your baby, as he/she grows, and has changing nutritional requirements. Even the milk of mothers who give birth to a premature baby differs from the milk produced by mothers who deliver full-term, maintaining a composition similar to colostrum for around a month after birth. This assists a premature baby in gaining weight more quickly and building up the immune system. Even in term babies, the mother’s milk changes from being more concentrated at birth to more watery as the baby grows, responding to his/her nutritional needs.
As well as this, breast milk changes throughout each feed! Earlier in the feed, the milk is lower in fat, which means that baby’s thirst can be easily quenched. As the feed continues, the fat content of the milk increases, which helps to satisfy the baby’s hunger.
Scientists are continually discovering new elements in breast milk, and, as a result, the ingredients in baby formulas are constantly being modified. It is unlikely that they will ever discover everything that is contained in breast milk. Therefore, breast milk will always remain superior to baby formula, and babies who are formula-fed will miss out on some important nutrients.
- Breastfeeding can help the mother to stay disease-free:
As well as benefiting your baby in countless ways, breastfeeding can help the health of mothers! Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of health problems such as Type 2 Diabetes, particular forms of breast cancer, osteoporosis, endometrial cancer, multiple sclerosis, anaemia and ovarian cancer. Additionally, women who are diabetic are often able to reduce their insulin doses when they breastfeed.
- Breastfeeding can help to prevent illnesses in your baby:
Since breastfeeding contains so many antibodies to build up baby’s immune system, it follows then, that babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of many diseases and allergies. Research has shown that breastfed babies are less likely to experience childhood leukaemia, urinary tract infections, childhood obesity, ear and lung infections, gastrointestinal problems, SIDS, bacterial meningitis, childhood lymphomas, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Hodgkin’s disease, vision defects, ulcerative colitis, asthma, eczema, and even Type 2 Diabetes. Additionally, women who were breastfed as babies are less likely to develop breast cancer. Doesn’t this all make it worth it?
Some studies also show that when a baby breastfeeds, its saliva passes through the mother’s skin, and helps the mother’s body to know what antibodies it needs to produce. Therefore, if the baby is sick, the mother is able to produce the specific antibodies needed to fight the pathogen and protect the baby’s health.
Additionally, the endorphins that breast milk contains help to relieve pain in your baby. Giving your little one a feed after scraped knee or bruise can help to get him/her calm again.
- Breastfeeding helps women to recover after their baby’s birth:
Mothers who breastfeed their babies straight after birth are not only able to provide their child with nourishing colostrum, but breastfeeding also helps their uterus to shrink to its pre-pregnancy size, reduce the severity of post-partum bleeding, and assist with the expulsion of the placenta, through encouraging the release of the hormone oxytocin. The uterus of women who don’t breastfeed their baby post-birth never returns to its original size, but always remains slightly enlarged.
- Breastfeeding can help you to lose your baby weight:
Breastfeeding is also demanding on the mother’s body in terms of calories it requires, with breastfeeding mothers burning, on average, 500 extra calories per day. Research has concluded that women who breastfeed exclusively are more likely to lose all their pregnancy weight six months after giving birth than those who do not. In fact, on average, breastfeeding women are 2 kilograms (that’s 4.4 pounds) lighter than those who are not still breastfeeding 6 months after the baby’s birth.
- Breastfeeding can help you to create a baby genius:
Studies have found that people who were breastfed as babies score better on intelligence tests, with a 0.3-point increase for each extra month they were fed up to age 3. Breastfed children scored an average of 7-10 points higher on IQ tests than those who were formula fed, and get higher grades in school. Scientists are still trying to work out exactly what it is about breastfeeding that helps with intelligence, with speculations ranging from an unidentified nutrient within the milk which assists with brain development, to the omega-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) present in the milk, to the bond created between mother and child during the many hours spent together feeding. Regardless, it’s good to know that the benefits of breastfeeding can continue so far into your child’s life.
- Breastfeeding gives your baby a healthy digestive system:
Baby formula is more difficult for little ones, especially the premature, to digest, and takes longer to be assimilated into the baby’s system. Because it is made from the milk of another species, usually cow, babies’ stomachs often have a difficult time adjusting to digesting it. Formula-fed babies have more gastro-intestinal issues than those who are breastfed.
Breastfeeding helps babies to develop healthy gut flora. Breast milk contains a range of probiotics which are passed on to the baby. It also contains around 200 different prebiotics, which act as food to help sustain the life of the good bacteria in the gut.
10. Breastfeeding can be used as a form of natural contraception:
Women who breastfeed exclusively generally take longer to begin ovulating again, and are less likely to begin ovulating before their first menstrual-like bleeding. The time during which breastfeeding prevents menstruation is known as lactational amenorrhea, or LAM. LAM is on the WHO’s list of effective family planning methods. Generally LAM lasts for up to a 6 month period, as this is the age at which many women begin supplementing their baby’s feeds with solid food, but in women who breastfeed before giving their baby each supplementary feed, and give their baby night feeds, this can last for longer. Studies have showed that, providing three criteria are met, i.e. the woman has not had her first menstrual bleed, is breastfeeding exclusively, and her infant is younger than 6 months, the LAM method is 98% effective.
Herbs that help for milk supply:
There is a number of herbs that can be taken to increase both the volume and quality of the breast milk. Herbs such as blessed thistle, nettle and fenugreek assist with the volume of the milk, and, although it is not a herb, brewer’s yeast has been said to do this as well. Red raspberry leaf and marshmallow can help to enrich the content of the milk.
As well as these, it is important for the mother to drink clean water regularly throughout the day to avoid dehydration. If your urine is dark in colour, you most likely need to increase your fluid intake.
Furthermore, breastfeeding mothers need to make sure they are getting adequate rest and avoiding unnecessary stressors—both tiredness and stress can have a negative effect on milk supply.
Whilst it should be acknowledged that, for a range of reason, some mothers are unable to breastfeed their babies, the benefits of this ‘liquid gold’ cannot be underestimated, and those who are able to should definitely feed their little ones to give them the best possible start in life.
Sources:http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-benefits.php Source: Dewey KG 2001, Nutrition, growth and complementary feeding of the breastfed infant. Pediatr Clin Nth Amer 48:87-104. https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/ http://abcnews.go.com/Health/breastfed-babies-smarter-study-finds/story?id=19807844 Baker, J., American Journal of Clinical Nutrition; 2008; vol 88: pp 1543-1551. http://www.caroldenny.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=89%3Aamazing-breastfeeding-facts&catid=44%3Abreast-feeding&Itemid=108 Chua S, Arulkumaran S, Lim I et al. “Influence of breastfeeding and nipple stimulation on postpartum uterine activity.” http://www.notmilk.com/101.html
About the Author
Stephen Mocko is a natural herbalist and healer, as well as the founder of Eureka Wellness, a health and wellness center in Melbourne, Australia, which highlights the importance of a raw diet with juicing, exercise, and clean water and air, as well as herbal supplementations. Eureka Wellness works with patients whom the doctors have dismissed as incurable. Stephen’s specialty is with diseases such as cancer, and helping patients to take control of their health once again.