As expectant parents are getting things ready for their little one to be born, top-of-mind to dos usually include getting the baby’s room ready, buying clothes and diapers. What should also be at the top of the list is thinking about how they plan to feed baby; breastfeed or formula? Many expectant mothers do not give it much thought and do what their mothers, sisters and friends did, while others are trying to decide what is the best choice for baby. What you will read today is the multiple benefits of breastfeeding for both babies and mothers.
Benefits for babies who breast feed
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months, with continuation of breastfeeding for 1 year or longer, as mutually desired by mother and infant, in addition to introducing solids. Breast milk provides the specific nutrients that babies need to grow and mature and is essentially “made to order” for each baby and their environment. Breast milk contains antibodies that are made by a mother’s immune system. When babies are born, their immune systems are very immature with less ability to fight off illness-causing germs. Breastfeeding allows babies to give viruses and bacteria to their mother’s immune system which will cause the mother to make new antibodies that will then be delivered through the breast milk, to further protect the baby.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infants who are breastfed exclusively for 4 months had a decreased risk of hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infections and Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV) Bronchiolitis compared with infants who never or only partially breastfed. Incidence of ear, throat and gastrointestinal tract infections, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), asthma, atopic dermatitis, eczema, Type 1 and 2 Diabetes Mellitus and obesity are also reduced for babies that are breastfed. Other benefits of breastfeeding include:
72% decrease risk for hospitalizations for lower respiratory infections in first year if exclusively breastfed more than 4 months
74% decrease risk for hospitalization or oxygen needed for babies with RSV that exclusively breastfed for 4 months compared to babies that never or partially breastfed
63% reduction in ear and throat infections in infant who exclusively breastfed for 6 months
64% in amount of gastrointestinal tract infections
36% reduction in the risk for SIDS
27% decrease in incidences of asthma, atopic dermatitis and eczema in low-risk populations and up to 42% in infants with family history of these conditions
30% reduction in the incidence of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus for infants who exclusively breastfed for at least 3 months and were not exposed to formula
40% decrease in the incidence of Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus
15% to 30% reduction in adolescent and adult obesity rates if any breastfeeding occurred in infancy compared with no breastfeeding. This is related to the fact that breastfed infants are able to self-regulate their milk intake, which is not the case for bottle feed infants.
The AAP also reports that there are consistent differences in neurodevelopmental outcome between breastfed and formula-fed infants. Higher intelligence scores are noted in infants who exclusively breastfed for 3 months or longer and higher teacher ratings were observed if exclusive breastfeeding was practiced for 3 months or longer. Also, there are significantly positive effects of breast milk feeding on long-term neurodevelopment in preterm infants.
It's not just baby who benefits from breastfeeding.
There are both short and long-term health benefits for mothers who breastfeed. During postpartum, mothers who breastfeed have decreased postpartum blood loss and more rapid involution of the uterus which helps it get back to pre-pregnancy size. The occurrence of postpartum depression is lower in mother’s who breastfeed. For each year of breastfeeding, there was a decreased risk for Type 2 diabetes for mothers by 4% to 12%. Women with a cumulative lactation history of 12 to 23 months had a significant reduction in high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, cardiovascular disease, and diabetes. Cumulative duration of breastfeeding of longer than 12 months is associated with a 28% decrease in breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Beside health benefits, breastfeeding has financial benefits and can save parents money. According to a detailed pediatric cost analysis based on the AHRQ (Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality) report concluded that if 90% of US mothers would comply with the recommendation to breastfeed exclusively for 6 months, there would be a savings of $13 billion per year.