Benefits of breastfeeding

Benefits of breastfeeding - Transcript

Over the past 30 years, there has been a large amount of research, which points to significant health outcomes for mothers and babies, both short and long term health advantages, and other things on top too.

Because of the substantial amount of research and knowledge around breastfeeding, the world health organization recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months, without water or solids, but then continuing with that breast milk alongside solids for up to two years of age and beyond, and all countries are being encouraged to adopt these recommendations.

What we do know about breast milk is that it is a living substance, very like blood -where every component has a specific function, and an important one too. We know that every mammal produces a different milk for their offspring, relating to the kind of animal that they are. For instance, cow’s milk, which is the basis of formula, is specifically made with the calf in mind.

It’s great to know that your breast milk is a really easily digestible, nutritionally adequate food for your baby, and has everything in the right proportions.

Many studies over the last few years are showing that where babies have not had breast milk, they’re five times more likely to be hospitalized with things like diarrhoea, gastroenteritis, five times more likely to be hospitalized with urinary tract infections, and there’s an increased risk of chest infections and ear infections, and when we’ve looked right across the country, where the breastfeeding rates are higher, the admissions into hospital with these conditions are lower.

And more than that, we know that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS, which is sudden infant death syndrome, and reduces the risk of childhood leukaemia. It can even reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease in the future, or type two diabetes, and so the list goes on.

One of the most amazing, protective mechanisms that we know about is that breast milk provides antibodies against illness. So if your baby picks up an infection and you carry on feeding your baby, your breast itself will make specific antibodies against that particular bug, and those antibodies will go into the breast milk, and help your baby to get better. It will also help to prevent you from getting that bug as well.

The other way round is, if you are ill, it’s important that you carry on breastfeeding your baby, so that your body will be making antibodies against that particular bug that you have. Those antibodies will go into your breast milk, and help your baby to fight off that potential infection. If your baby does happen to pick up the bug that you have, he’s likely to get better faster.

And know that this protective mechanism will carry on for as long as you give your baby breast milk, so this could be days, or weeks, or years. That protective mechanism doesn’t just stop at an arbitrary age.

We seem to be in the middle of an obesity epidemic – we see this on the news, and people are talking about it in health circles, and how we can actually combat that – but what we know is that there are many, many hundreds of studies that point to the fact that your baby is less likely, very much less likely, to become obese, because of the breastfeeding that is going on now.

And there have been some amazing, very recent studies that are pointing to the importance of the early attachment that breastfeeding facilitates between mothers and babies. We know that breastfeeding and all this close, responsiveness, which breastfeeding affords, helps to develop your baby’s brain and increases your baby’s assurance and confidence, and there are studies even pointing to babies becoming more secure adults because of the early breastfeeding experience.

A lot of studies around early brain development are pointing to better cognitive outcomes later on, and better mental performance and mental health. So however you’re feeding your baby, that close contact, responsiveness, is really important.

As your baby grows and changes, your breast milk composition also changes to meet his needs at that particular time. So there is a changing element – even within one day, the composition of your breast milk can change too. So it is a very adaptable substance.

And as I’ve mentioned before, those antibodies will protect your baby from illness for as long as you breastfeed. Unfortunately, formula, which is modified cows’ milk, and has been through a specific pasteurisation process, does not offer any of that protection at all.

So what about health benefits for you as a breastfeeding mother? We know that breastfeeding can greatly reduce your risk of breast cancer, even where there’s a family history. And it can reduce your risk of other cancers, like ovarian, or womb cancer. It can reduce the risk of osteoporosis, where you get fractures. It seems that breastfeeding causes your bone density to increase – once you finish that period of lactation, that bone density is stronger.

The early days of breastfeeding will help to contract your uterus back to its normal size again, and this in effect prevents what they call postpartum haemorrhage, so it can stop you from having a big bleed afterwards, and that is normal in biology. And because of the lack of periods with breastfeeding, this also reduces your risk of anaemia.

I think another really positive thing to know, is that breastfeeding can use up anywhere between three hundred to five hundred extra calories a day, just in the manufacturing of milk. So if you’re eating normally, it stands to reason that you have a far greater chance of getting your pre-pregnancy weight back, and this is backed up by research.

If you had gestational diabetes while pregnant, breastfeeding can have some really good potential outcomes for you. It can help to reduce your blood sugars and get them more stable, it can also help with weight loss and it may even prevent becoming diabetic in the future.

A study in 2016 involving Korean women who tend to breastfeed for at least twelve months, has shown a reduction in the risk of what is called metabolic syndrome. And this meant that these ladies were showing a decreased risk of high blood pressure, and high sugar levels, and high cholesterol, and therefore preventing their risk of diabetes or stroke or heart attack, even.

I really do appreciate that having all this knowledge is one thing, but there can be so many potential barriers, and things that can undermine your efforts to breastfeed, but I’m very encouraged that many more of you now are getting information and support. Health professionals have so much more knowledge now than in recent years, so I would encourage you to learn as much as you can, and I really hope that this educational tool will contribute to that positive information that you need.

Review dates, references & further resources

Review Dates

V1 published June 2017. Next review date: April 2020

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