Why bother breastfeeding? Benefits for your baby

Why bother breastfeeding? Benefits for your baby

As a soon-to-be mother, you have likely considered breastfeeding.  However, you may have some doubts. Maybe your coworkers talk about the struggles of pumping while at work or missing the taste of wine. Or maybe your own mother constantly  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?. Why do the American Academy of Pediatrics, American Academy of Family Physicians,  the World Health Organization, and UNICEF recommend breastfeeding 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

Breast milk is rich in immune system supporting factors. 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. The bacteria and yeasts populate the babies' intestinal tract and help to prevent infections. What's best is that these first colonies  stay in the gut for the rest of the babies' lives. They are almost indestructible. Therefore, if your child gets an infection or uses antibiotics, the population will eventually restore to what it was at birth.

The Result

All of these protective factors decrease the frequency of respiratory infections (including ear infections) and diarrheal diseases. Importantly, the potential for more severe illnesses, like bacterial meningitis, is also decreased; and necrotizing enterocolitis, is also reduced in vulnerable premature infants. This means less visits to the doctor and fewer days missed from work. 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 is that breastfeeding for even  just a few months can protect your baby from sickness beyond infancy. For example, those who were breastfed in infancy have reduced risk of becoming obese adults and having diabetes. Furthermore, there are usually fewer allergies, asthma, childhood cancers, osteoporosis, and vision defects. 

As detailed in What to Feed Your Baby, breastfeeding enhances brain and nerve development resulting in higher average IQs–not just in infancy but on into adulthood. Additionally, recent research found that for every month an infant is breastfed, their IQ score is one point higher.  

Advantages of Breastfeeding for the Baby

Short-term/Immediate Benefits Long-term Benefits
Decreased incidence of infections such asDecreased risk of developingdiabetesasthmachildhood cancers rheumatoid arthritisosteoporosisvision defectsobesity
diarrheal diseaseinfluenzanecrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)herpes simplexrespiratory synctial virus (RSV)ear infectionsrespiratory 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 sclerosishigher IQcognitive and social development

Protection from allergies

Improved dental health

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

BOTTOM LINE: In essence, breastmilk is a very nutritious, very beneficial brain food. Breast milk optimizes a baby's growth and  improves his or her immune function. These benefits last through infancy and continue into adulthood. No wonder it's the gold standard that all the milk-based formulas try to mimic.

Short-term/Immediate BenefitsLong-term Benefits
Decreased incidence of infections such asDecreased risk of developingDiabetesAsthmaChildhood cancers Rheumatoid arthritisOsteoporosisVision defectsObesity

Diarrheal diseaseInfluenzaNecrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)Herpes simplexRespiratory synctial virus (RSV)Ear infectionsRespiratory infections (i.e., bronchitis)Bacterial meningitis
Decreased incidence of illnesses such asEnhanced development and intelligence:
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)Gastroesophageal reflux (GER)Multiple sclerosisHigher IQCognitive and social development
Protection from allergiesImproved dental health