Many medical experts, including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), strongly recommend breastfeeding exclusively for at least six months, or as long as mom and baby desire. While there are many widely known benefits to breastfeeding, there are some benefits for both mother and baby that you may not be as familiar with.
Breastfed babies are generally healthier than non-breastfed and statistics show it. They have 50% fewer ear infections, 64% fewer gastrointestinal infections, fewer cases of bacterial meningitis and 72% fewer hospitalizations for pneumonia and other respiratory illnesses. Breast milk protects children from developing asthma by about 30%. It also helps to decrease the development of allergies. Breastfed babies also develop 42% less atopic dermatitis (eczema) than children who were not breastfed. And the longer children are breastfed, the more protection they get.
Breastfeeding promotes a healthy weight for your child. According to German researchers, obesity is 15-30% lower in breastfed babies. Breastfed infants are more likely to gain the right amount of weight as they grow rather than become overweight children. Leptin, the hormone present in mom’s milk, helps the baby regulate hunger, and low leptin levels may predict obesity later in life. With obesity can come a whole host of other health problems, so decreasing obesity can, in turn, prevent other diseases. The thinking is that breastfed babies regulate the amount of milk taken in on their own when they feed. They learn to stop eating when they are full. They learn to recognize satiety cues and thereby learn to self-regulate at an early age. The effect breast milk has on regulating metabolism and insulin cannot be reproduced in artificial baby milk.
“Breast milk is unique because it constantly changes to meet your baby’s needs,” says West Tennessee Healthcare lactation specialist Amy White, RN, CLC. “And it offers benefits that extend to well past the time your child nurses.”
Childhood leukemia makes up 30% of all of the cases of cancer in children. There is a decrease in the rate of childhood leukemia if you breastfeed your baby for any length of time. In babies breastfed for more than six months, there is a 20% decrease in leukemia. There are other cancers, such as lymphoma, that have some protection with breastfeeding as well.
The AAP says breastfeeding also plays a role in the prevention of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome). Statistics vary, but the most conservative estimates say that babies who are breastfed any amount for any length of time, have a 50 % decrease in the risk of SIDS. And the risk decreases the longer and more breast milk that the baby receives.
Breastfeeding is not just good for the baby but the mother as well. One year of breastfeeding can protect a woman for 20- 30+ years from serious diseases. A study of 161,000 women in menopause showed that women who breastfed for a year were less likely to be obese or get diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis and heart disease than women who never breastfed. Research indicated that breastfeeding can result in a 10-50% lower risk of those health complaints.
Studies show that women who breastfeed for more than twelve months have a 28% lower risk of ovarian and breast cancer. MD Anderson Cancer Center reports that breastfeeding decreases a woman’s risk of both pre-and post-menopausal breast cancers. For every twelve months that you breastfeed, you decrease your risk by 4%. A 14-year study also showed that African American women who breastfed reduced their risk of developing highly aggressive breast cancers. The longer you breastfeed the more protection you receive. MD Anderson reports that studies show the total time a mother breastfeeds all her children counts.
“Breast milk is the original natural, organic baby food,” said Amy White, RN, CLC. “It is a sustainable method for feeding infants.”
When you consider your options for feeding your baby, look back over this list and see the incredible benefits that breast milk has for both mother and child. To learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding, attend one of West Tennessee Healthcare’s breastfeeding community education classes. Click here to find one near you.