Breastfeeding is back. For years, it was not in vogue, as marketing messages were delivered to mothers and doctors minimizing the real benefits of breastmilk in favour of “superior” manmade solutions. Formula with “added” nutrients was suggested as the healthy option for a new born baby. The truth is that these added wonder nutrients have always been in breast milk, along with many other unique ingredients that only human mothers can produce.
Every mother wants what is best for her child and one of the most important decisions that they have to make is whether to breastfeed or use formula. But, with so many mixed messages, it’s hard for moms to know what to believe. Fortunately, science is confirming what women have known for thousands of years – human milk really is best.
Breastmilk has evolved over time to be a perfect elixir for nourishing human babies. There are even quite mysterious ingredients found in human milk that are not completely understood. So, why is breastmilk so unique and what is its true value?
Human Milk Supports a Strong Immune System
From the moment of birth, the mother’s body is preparing a unique combination of ingredients that will give her baby the best start to develop a healthy body. Colostrum is the first special kind of milk produced by moms. It is a highly concentrated, easily digested milk that contains everything a new born needs to build a strong immune system. The sooner the baby gets a taste of breast milk, the better.
Colostrum is a wondrous substance. It is super high in protein and low in fat. It also provides a high concentration of antibodies to prevent infections. The germ-fighting white blood cells, or leukocytes, also help protect your baby from bacteria and viruses. Colostrum gradually turns into mature milk, but its same disease-fighting properties continue to be provided.
A mother’s milk can also help her baby deal with immediate environmental health dangers. If she is exposed to germs, a mother will produce antibodies “on the fly”. So if, for example, there is a flu bug going around, a mom’s body incorporates the appropriate antibodies into her milk, so that her baby can also resist the illness. The truth is that these ever-changing protective antibodies simply can’t be added to formula.
Breastmilk is a Nutritional Powerhouse
If you are breastfeeding, you and your baby are getting off to a great start. Health Canada recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, with solids gradually being introduced when the baby is ready. They recommend that breastfeeding continue until at least two years of age, and then for as long as the mom and child want. However, even if you only breastfeed for a few weeks, your baby will get lots of important nutrients.
Breastmilk has the perfect combination of fats, vitamins, and carbohydrates. It also contains antibodies, digestive enzymes, and hormones. In fact, some fatty acids like DHA (Docosahexaenoic acid) and AA (Arachidonic Acid) are only found in breast milk, and we have good reason to believe that they contribute to a higher performance on cognitive and IQ tests later in life. The formats of DHA and ARA found in formula are not absorbed as quickly by the body, and have not shown the same improvement in brain development as from breastmilk.
Breastmilk Protects Your Child the Natural Way
Research from the National Resources Defense Council shows some dramatic statistics in developing countries where the differences in infection rates can seriously affect an infant’s chances for survival. In Brazil, they say that a formula-fed baby is 14 times more likely to die than a baby fed exclusively breast milk. Research shows that the immunological benefits of breastfeeding enable the growing baby’s immune system to mature as the child grows. It reduces gastrointestinal illness in infants by up to 82 % and been shown to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) by up to 500%.
Moms will be happy to know that the investment they are making in breastfeeding may even continue to benefit a child in later life. Research indicates that children who were breast-fed as infants are also protected against chronic diseases, like asthma and even some childhood cancers. They also may reduce the risk of developing allergic diseases and diabetes.
Breastmilk May Help to Make Your Child Smarter
It’s clear that human milk contains lots of specific ingredients that are essential for the health of your baby. But, did you know that it may also help your baby to be smarter?
Breastmilk contains ingredients like long chain fatty acids that are necessary for brain, eye, and nervous system development. These fatty acids are deposited in the brain during the last trimester of pregnancy and are also found in breast milk. The question is whether these nutrients in breastmilk enhance brain growth and positively impact intelligence.
There has been a lot of research in this area. A 2013 study published by JAMA Pediatrics, a journal of the American Medical Association, concludes that the ingredients in human milk may have the potential to make children smarter. For their study, they followed over 1300 moms and kids and found that longer breastfeeding duration was associated with better language skills at the age of 3. The same study showed improved verbal and nonverbal intelligence at the age of 7, compared to kids who were formula-fed.
Even if you don’t breastfeed for long, a study conducted at Oxford University, found that as little as four weeks of breastfeeding had significant, long-term effects on cognitive development later in life.
Give Your Baby the Best Possible Start
These research studies mentioned in this article support efforts by breastfeeding experts and public-health advocates to increase breastfeeding rates, which start around 89% but drop below 25% by a baby’s first birthday. Their conclusion? Breastfeed as long as you can to give your child the best start in life and perhaps even boost their IQ. The benefit is greater the longer you and your baby stay with it, so why not set yourself a target duration? Make sure your family members and friends know so they can help you out during any tough times.
Human milk is valuable from a nutritional, immunological, developmental and cognitive perspective. The most important benefit of breastfeeding that it uses a mother’s ability to create food for her child that is perfect in every way. The only ingredient she has to add is her love – shared in a nurturing, safe environment.
What do you think is the most important benefit of breastfeeding? Is it to establish a bond between mom and baby, or to give the baby nutrition, protection from illness or to make them smarter when they grow up? Please leave your comments below, or on our Facebook page.