Breastfeeding is one of the most effective and efficient ways to ensure improved child health and preterm survival. Breast milk’s benefits are endless as it provides ideal nutrition- the right amount of nutrients ready to be digested for infants. However, the rate of breastfeeding is as low as 30% in some groups of women, while some women are unable to breastfeed, some others simply choose not to. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), If breastfeeding were scaled up to near-universal levels, about 820 000 child lives would be saved every year. Globally, only 40% of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed.
Should mothers embrace breastfeeding?
Though most health authorities recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months, continued breastfeeding often recommended for at least one year, as different foods are introduced into the baby’s diet. Breast milk contains everything the baby needs for the first six months of life, in all the right proportions. Its composition even changes according to the baby’s changing needs, especially during the first month of life.
During the first days after birth, the breasts produce a thick and yellowish fluid called colostrum. It’s high in protein, low in sugar and loaded with beneficial compounds. Colostrum is the ideal first milk and helps the newborn’s immature digestive tract develop. After the first few days, the breasts start producing larger amounts of milk as the baby’s stomach grows.
Breast milk and immunity
It has been proven that breast milk contains important antibodies that help babies fight off viruses and bacteria. This particularly applies to colostrum, the first milk. Colostrum provides high amounts of immunoglobulin A (IgA), as well as several other antibodies. IgA protects the baby from getting sick by forming a protective layer in the baby’s nose, throat, and digestive system. Formulas on the other hand do not provide antibody protection for babies making them more vulnerable to health issues associated with infants. It should be noted that breast milk in no way substitutes for vaccines suggested by the World Health Organization.
Maintaining a healthy weight with breast milk
Breastfeeding promotes healthy weight gain and helps prevent childhood obesity. Obesity rates are 15–30% lower in breastfed babies, compared to formula-fed babies. Babies who are breastfed develop different kinds of gut bacteria and produce a hormone called Leptin. The beneficial gut bacteria help the babies in their metabolism and Leptin helps with the regulation of appetite and fat storage.
More evidence breastfeeding makes babies smarter
According to a recent report in the journal Lancet Global Health, babies who are breastfed for at least a year grow up to be significantly more intelligent as adults and they earn more money, too. The findings fit in with many other studies that show breastfeeding helps brains to develop better. But this study was done in an unusual way, following people from birth until they were 30 years old, to see how they did in life.
The breast-fed babies did better than babies who were nursed for a month or less, they scored better on intelligence tests as adults and they also earned more on average.
Overall, without a doubt, breastfeeding provides every child with the best possible start in life. It delivers health, nutritional, and emotional benefits to both the child and its mother.