Breastfeeding: a boon for babies


Childbirth is an extremely emotional experience for all parents; it overwhelms them with love, happiness, excitement, a sense of responsibility as well as a lot of anxiety and exhaustion. The moment a child is first held in the arms, this amazing journey of parenthood begins. Every couple desires to give their baby the best nutrition, perfect health and a secure future. Breastfeeding is the nature’s paramount health plan for a baby. At the mother’s breast, the infant feels at home: warm, safe and protected. Breastfeeding nourishes, heals and creates an eternal bond.

The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to two years of age or beyond.

It is well known that breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for the baby, mother and the society as well. In addition studies have consistently shown that the benefits of breastfeeding last well into adulthood too.

Mother produces milk specifically suited for her baby. Breast milk is a complex, living, biological fluid which contains just the right amounts of nutrients, in the right proportions. It is rich in immunoglobulins, enzymes, hormones, growth factors, macrophages, etc. Babies learn to regulate temperature and maintain stable breathing and heart rate while breastfeeding.

Lactose in human milk enhances calcium absorption and metabolizes into galactose and glucose, which supplies energy to infant’s rapidly growing brain. Human milk contains numerous long-chain fatty acids including DHA and ARA. These lipids are responsible for cell membrane integrity in the brain, retinas and other parts of the baby’s body. Breastmilk contains a lot of cholesterol. Cholesterol provides basic components for manufacturing nerve tissue in the growing brain. DHA, cholesterol and fat in breastmilk provide the right substances for manufacturing myelin, the sheath that surrounds nerve fibers.

Breastfeeding presents clear short-term benefits for child health, mainly protection against morbidity and mortality from infectious diseases. Breastfed babies have a decreased chance of developing respiratory and ear infections, allergies, atopic diseases and Asthma. Secretory IgA, along with other immunoglobulins protect the ears, nose and throat, as well as the GI tract against foreign viruses and bacteria. There is reduced risk of Urinary tract infections, diarrhea, gastrointestinal reflux and NEC attributed to breastfeeding.

The available evidence suggested that breastfeeding has many long-term benefits. Adults who were breastfed experienced lower mean blood pressure and total cholesterol as well as higher performance in intelligence tests. The Krakow prospective birth cohort study on effect of exclusive breastfeeding on the development of children's cognitive function also analyzed data from the 7-year follow-up of 468 term babies which showed that even a shorter duration of exclusive breastfeeding in early infancy produced beneficial effects on the cognitive development of children, sustained through their preschool age.

Furthermore, studies have shown that children who are breastfed are less likely to be obese during adolescence and longer periods of breastfeeding greatly reduce the risk of being overweight in adulthood. Since breastfed babies learn to control how much they eat they are leaner than formula fed/bottle fed infants. Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults.

Few studies have also shown that adults who were formula-fed as infants tend to have higher blood cholesterol and are more likely to have arterosclerotic plaques than those who were breastfed. Breastfeeding during infancy may lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life.  This can be associated with the high level of cholesterol in breast milk because of which breastfed babies learn to metabolize cholesterol better than formula fed infants.

According to a study led by Eleanor Schwarz at the University of Pittsburgh's Department of Medicine,
babies who are breastfed are less likely to develop type 2 diabetes mellitus in later life. Breastfeeding aids in decreasing belly fat and hence reduces the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Research suggests that breastfeeding may also play a role in preventing digestive diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn's disease, as well as childhood cancers.

Breast milk is a unique food designed by the nature for optimal nourishment of babies and breastfeeding is the easiest and the most cost effective health investment for a healthier, stronger and brighter future of our country.

 Rashmi Poduval (IBCLC)

 Lactation consultant, Pune


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