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Not only is breast milk the perfect food for your baby but breastfeeding also has many other advantages to a baby's health
There are more benefits to breastfeeding your baby than you could possibly imagine.
Fewer breastfed babies become obese.A formula-fed baby has a statistically greater chance of being fat, and some studies, though not all, suggest that adolescents who were breastfed are less likely to be overweight or obese.
Does all this matter? Well, it could, because up to one in five fat babies are still fat at five years old, and about 14 per cent of very fat babies are still obese 20 to 30 years later. The concern is that very overweight adults are more prone to heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, varicose veins and gallstones and, as a result, have a reduced life expectancy.
Babies who are breastfed - and especially those who are exclusively breastfed - are less likely to become ill in their first year, and less likely to be admitted to hospital.Even more important, breastfeeding can save lives. UNICEF estimates that reversing the decline in breastfeeding could save one and a half million lives a year worldwide. A US study in 2004 suggested that breastfeeding cut the risk of a baby dying in the first year by up to 20 per cent and other research suggested that exclusively breastfeeding babies for at least three months, and continuing to breastfeed for the rest of the first year, could prevent 52,000 infant deaths a year in Latin America alone.
Breast milk also helps protect a baby from infection with bacteria, viruses, yeasts and other organisms.All manner of infections are less likely in breastfed babies. Diarrhoea/Gastroenteritis is also much more likely in formula-fed babies. A 2002 review of 20 studies from around the world found that gastro-intestinal infection was significantly more common in formula-fed babies. One problem with formula is that the number of bacteria it contains doubles every half-hour it's left at room temperature. Even if you put it in the fridge, the number doubles every 10 hours.
Breastfeeding helps protect babies from bronchiolitis, pneumonia and other respiratory infections.
Many studies report less middle ear infection in breastfed babies.This is important because not only is middle ear infection painful but it can lead to deafness. There are three reasons why breastfed babies have a lower risk of middle ear infection. Firstly, breastfeeding mothers tend to hold their babies more upright than do bottle-feeding mothers, so milk is less likely to escape from the throat along the Eustachian tubes to the middle ear cavities, where it can encourage infection. Secondly, anti-infective and anti-inflammatory factors in breast milk reduce the risk of infection developing in milk that enters the middle ear. Thirdly, the way a breastfed baby sucks and milks the breast tends to open up the Eustachian tubes, encouraging fluid to drain from the middle ears and making infection less likely - and this doesn't happen with bottle-feeding.
Urine infections are less likely in breastfed babies.
Breastfeeding women can squirt a few drops of colostrum in their baby's eyes to help get rid of baby's 'sticky eye'!Sticky eye / conjunctivitis is common in newborn babies. This may reduce the need for antibiotics.
Breastfed Babies have a better response to immunisation.Breastfed babies make more antibodies when they are immunised, possibly because breastfeeding makes their immune system mature more quickly.
Breastfed babies have fewer allergiesExclusive breastfeeding for the first few months helps prevent allergy. Cows' milk protein is the commonest primary allergy trigger. Breastfeeding can help prevent eczema and can also discourage asthma and wheezing. Exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first three months offered substantial protection against hay fever in childhood, both in children with an allergic family history and in those without. Babies breastfed exclusively for six months are much less likely to develop allergies. However, breastfeeding women should ideally avoid large amounts of cows' milk, egg, nuts, fish, citrus fruits and wheat, as traces of these in breast milk could trigger allergy in susceptible babies. Breastfeeding mothers of babies with a high allergy risk should avoid cows' milk, eggs, nuts and fish completely.
Most recent studies suggest breastfeeding can help prevent eczema.Exclusive breastfeeding in the first three months discourages eczema in children with a family history of eczema, asthma and hay fever.
Most, but not all, studies suggest breastfeeding can discourage asthma, wheezing and Hay Fever.
Breastfed babies have...Less Coeliac Disease
Less Autoimmune Disease
Less Ulcerative Colitis and Crohn's Disease
Less Dental Decay
Better jaw and mouth development
Less Lymph System Cancer
Breastfed babies have Better Brain and Nerve DevelopmentTwo studies have shown that breastfed babies walk earlier than formula-fed ones, even after allowing for differences in weight, and excluding babies whose mothers went out to work (because they might have had less encouragement to walk).
Better intelligence and development testsFor many years some (but not all) studies have found breastfeeding is associated with higher intelligence. Before dismissing this because so many factors impinge on intelligence and how it's measured, it's worth remembering that the contents of human milk are different from those in formula, so it's possible that human milk provides optimal levels for the development of the human brain, which grows extraordinarily fast in the first year of life and fastest of all in pre-term babies.
Breast milk is particularly important for nerve and brain development in premature babies.
Breastfed babies generally have better eyesight.
Breast milk is good for the eyes.
Less Vitamin A Deficiency
Breastfed babies of three months or younger are less likely to get meningitis and septicaemia.
Less Autoimmune DiseaseAutoimmune diseases such as type 1 diabetes, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, multiple sclerosis, and Crohn's disease involve some kind of trigger (eg viral infection or stress) which makes the body produce rogue antibodies which then attack certain cells instead of being protective. Breastfeeding seems to reduce a baby's lifetime risk of autoimmune disease in general. Studies suggest that breastfeeding may help protect against juvenile rheumatoid arthritis - the sort that comes on in children.
DiabetesStudies strongly suggest formula-feeding can play a part in causing type 1 diabetes (the auto-immune sort that comes on suddenly in young people).
Less Pyloric Stenosis
Different emotional & behavioural development....The influences on emotional and behavioural development in later childhood and adulthood are impossible to pinpoint with certainty. However one study of seven-year-olds showed that those who'd been breastfed were less fearful, nervous, jealous and spiteful than their peers who'd been formula-fed. They were also more successful at school. Studies also show that breastfed babies spend less time in their cots and more with their mothers than do formula-feds.
In communities which not only allow but actively encourage unrestricted breastfeeding, mothers don't let their babies cry even for a short time, whereas in many developed countries babies are often left to cry because 'it isn't time for a feed' or 'they might be spoilt if they're picked up'. You could argue that the baby whose mother gives the breast for food or comfort whenever her baby cries or otherwise appears to need it, might grow up feelng more secure that he'll get his needs met.
Research into a breastfeeding woman's behaviour before, during and after feeding shows it differs from that of a bottle-feeder. A breastfeeder is more likely to kiss, rock and touch her baby, while a bottle-feeder is more likely to rub, pat and jiggle her baby and show much more concern over 'wind'. Breastfeeders also talk to their babies more than do bottle-feeders. A baby breastfed on an unrestricted basis will rarely cry because his hunger, thirst and need for comfort can immediately be satisfied by warm milk. In contrast, a formula-fed baby is more likely to have to wait until his mother reckons it's time for his feed and then has to wait again while the formula is prepared and warmed. He may feel very real hunger and frustration by the time all this has happened.
Natural ContraceptionThe natural contraceptive effect of long-term unrestricted breastfeeding means that women using no other family planning methods have longer gaps between their children than if they were formula-feeding. (Breastfeeding is only effective as contraception if you are exclusively breastfeeding and not giving ANY additional drinks/food)
Less Nappy RashOne survey showed that formula-fed babies were twice as likely to suffer from nappy rash as were breastfed ones.
Also Dutch research in 1994 reported that by nine years, children who'd been exclusively breastfed as babies had half the number of minor neurological problems as children who had received any formula. The researchers believed that the various polyunsaturated fats in breast milk accounted for this difference.
Possible DisadvantagesThe breastfed babies of some vegan mothers have a lack of vitamin B12. Some strictly vegetarian or vegan women have too little vitamin B12 in their milk and their babies develop symptoms of deficiency. Expert advice about what to eat, together with extra vitamin B12 for vegan mothers, puts this right. If a woman is severely malnourished for some time and her diet is grossly deficient in protein and fat, her baby is liable to go short as well. Babies who don't get enough milk can become dangerously dehydrated. You must speak to your midwife or GP if you think your baby isn't getting enough milk and they can help you boost your milk supply.
Experts around the world strongly recommend breastfeeding as the very best way of feeding babies.
Overall, breastfeeding is clearly best for babies, partly because babies who are breastfed are healthier than those who are formula-fed.
Dr. Penny Stanway
You can buy Dr. Stanway's book 'Breast is Best' here
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