Breastmilk: Better than any Udder Milk?

As some of you may know, this week is World Breastfeeding Week. I guess it is a week to celebrate all those Moms out there who are breastfeeding their little muffins day in and day out and incredibly sustaining a life (or two as is the case for some superheroes!) as well as encouraging other moms to breastfeed so that babies all across the world can benefit.

Many people don’t know that the World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a childs life and continued breastfeeding until a child is at least two years of age.

First time mothers often find when they begin to research and educate themselves on the benefits of breastfeeding (usually during pregnancy) that the science speaks for itself. The benefits of breastfeeding extend way beyond basic nutrition.

So what are the benefits of breastfeeding? People ask me all the time why I don’t just give the baby a bottle! “Isn’t it so much easier to give them a bottle?” they ask. (Unless you are telling me what wine goes best with nearly 6 months of exhaustion and a to-do list as long as your arm then keep your parenting advice to yourself is my motto but hey ho). Given that only 2% of Irish babies are exclusively breastfed until they are six months old I decided to remind myself of why I’m doing it…for the week that’s in it!

So why Breastfeed? Let the facts speak…and these are only the ones we know of!

  • Breastmilk provides all the nutrients your child needs for the first six months of his/her life. It is tailor made to your baby and alters according to his/her needs-incredible I know!
  • Breastfeeding is beneficial for mothers, it helps the uterus contract after birth and helps many new mothers lose baby weight faster.
  • Breastfeeding helps mother and baby bond in a way that can only be described by those who have experienced it. It provides warmth and closeness which is especially key during what is now known as the “fourth trimester”.
  • Breastfeeding promotes the release of oxytocin aka “the feel good hormone”. Numerous studies in animals and humans have found that oxytocin promotes nurturing and relaxation.
  • Breastfeeding delays the return of a mothers menstrual period to help keep iron in the body. Breastfeeding moms are less likely to suffer from anemia.
  • Ecological breastfeeding can be a safe form of contraception provided all the conditions are met (baby is exclusively breastfed, the mother is not menstruating, the baby is younger than 6 months and does not use a pacifier).
  • Breastmilk provides better protection from infection with fewer visits to the hospital as a result. Just one drop of breastmilk contains millions of antibodies. No formula has ever been created that can replicate human milk in its complexity. It is more like human blood than cow’s milk because it has white blood cells. It’s nutrition, comfort, and immune system, all in one!
  • Breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect your baby from illness. It’s estimated that if every mother breastfed, childhood cancers would decrease by as much as 20%.
  • Breastfed babies have a lower risk of childhood obesity, allergies, type 2 diabetes, UTI’s, leukemia, asthma, ear infections, eczema, cardiovascular disease in adulthood, pneumonia, meningitis…the list is endless.
  • Breastfed babies have higher IQ’s. Experts say that the emotional bonding that takes place during breastfeeding probably contributes to some of the brainpower benefits, but that the fatty acids in breast milk may play the biggest role
  • Breastfeeding has life long benefits to mothers as it lowers their risk of both ovarian and breast cancer. It’s not entirely clear how breastfeeding helps, but it may have to do with the structural changes in breast tissue caused by breastfeeding and the fact that lactation suppresses the amount of estrogen your body produces. Researchers think the effect on ovarian cancer may be related to estrogen suppression as well. Women who were formula-fed as infants have higher rates of breast cancer as adults. For both premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancer, women who were breastfed as children, even if only for a short time, had a 25% lower risk of developing breast cancer than women who were bottle-fed as infants.
  • Breastfeeding mothers lower their chances of osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity.
  • Breastmilk is a natural pain reliever for baby. Breast milk actually contains chemicals that suppress pain (endorphins). Many a breastfeeding mother will attest to the benefit of a “boobing” after a nasty fall, scrape or bang!
  • More sleep for Dad! A lot of men don’t realize it but the dads of breastfed babies never have to get up because there’s no bottles to be made and dad can’t feed so all he has to do is support the breastfeeding journey as best as he can.
  • Babies can digest human milk more easily than the milk of other animals, probably because human milk contains an enzyme that aids in this process. Breast milk forms softer curds in the infant’s stomach than cow’s milk (the basis for most formulas) and is more quickly assimilated into the body system. While it contains less protein than does cow’s milk, virtually all the protein in breast milk is available to the baby. By contrast, about half the protein in cow’s milk passes through the baby’s body as a waste product. Similarly, iron and zinc are absorbed better by breastfed babies.
  • Preterm infants with extremely low birth weight who received breast milk shortly after birth improved their mental development scores at 18 months when compared with preterm infants who weren’t given breast milk.
  • Breastfed babies have less chance of developing necrotizing enterocolitis.
  • Breast milk acts like a natural tranquilizer for baby due to chemicals that seem to work like “knock-out drops” for tired babies. Even if baby doesn’t fall asleep, he/she will certainly calm down and become more agreeable.
  • Suckling at the breast is good for a baby’s tooth and jaw development. Babies at the breast have to use as much as 60 times more energy to get food than do those drinking from a bottle.
  • Breast milk always has the right proportions of fat, carbohydrates and protein and this changes according to the needs of the child. Breastfeeding moms will often note that the milk is more watery when it’s hot outside or it changes colour when the baby is sick as it alters composition to cater for baby’s needs.
  • Breastfed babies are less likely to die before their third birthday.
  • Breastmilk is free, formula is expensive.
  • Breastfed babies get fewer cavities.
  • Less reflux: Breastfed neonates demonstrate gastroesophageal reflux episodes of significantly shorter duration that formula fed neonates.
  • A large German study published in 2009 found that breastfeeding — either exclusively or partially — is associated with a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). The researchers concluded that exclusive breastfeeding at 1 month of age cut the risk of SIDS in half.
  • The National Institutes of Health reviewed more than 9,000 study abstracts and concluded that women who didn’t breastfeed or who stopped breastfeeding early on had a higher risk of postpartum depression.
  • One study found that women who had high amounts of oxytocin in their system (50 percent of breastfeeding moms as opposed to 8 percent of bottle-feeding moms) had lower blood pressure after being asked to talk about a stressful personal problem.
  • The May 2010 issue of Pediatrics published a study showing that babies who are breastfed are less likely to have fevers after their immunizations than babies who are formula fed.
  • Breastmilk is always at the right temperature for your baby. It helps to keep your baby’s body temperature from dropping too low.
  • Breastfeeding is protective against inguinal hernias. For unknown reasons breastfed babies experience significantly fewer of them.
  • Babies who are not breastfed are at an increased risk of developing type I (juvenile, insulin-dependent) diabetes.
  • Not breastfeeding increases mother’s risk of developing endometrial cancer.
  • Breastfeeding decreases child’s chances of contracting Hodgkins disease
  • Breastfeeding protects baby against vision defects. Breast milk is generally the main, if not the only source, of vitamin A during a child’s first 24 months of life (or for the duration of breastfeeding).
  • Breast milk is an intestinal soother whereas Cows milk is an intestinal irritant.
  • Breastfed babies have less chance of cardiopulmonary distress while feeding.
  • Breast milk contains high quantities of lauric acid (also found in coconut oil) which acts as a gentle exfoliant and is naturally antibacterial and antimicrobial. It contains a bunch of antibodies that help heal damaged skin and also makes skin softer than using a mild soap.
  • Breastfed babies have less chance of developing ulcerative colitis
  • Breast milk protects against hemophilus b. virus.
  • Breastfed babies require shorter pre and post-surgical fasting.
  • Breastfeeding results in less sick days for parents.
  • Breastfeeding enhances vaccine effectiveness. Breastfed infants showed better serum and secretory responses to peroral and parenteral vaccines than those formula-fed.
  • Breastmilk is readily available without needing other supplies and is a lot more convenient for mothers.
  • Breastfeeding protects your baby from the risks of an unclean water supply.
  • A recent study of post-neonatal mortality in the United States found a 25% increase in mortality among non-breastfed infants. In the UK Millennium Cohort Survey, six months of exclusive breast feeding was associated with a 53% decrease in hospital admissions for diarrhoea and a 27% decrease in respiratory tract infections.
  • Patients who receive organ transplants/undergo chemo often use breast milk after surgery to help fight off infection and boost immunity.
  • A squirt of breastmilk can cure a newborn of cradle cap, “sticky eyes”, pink eye, baby acne and a host of other issues as breastmilk is both sterile and full of antibodies.
  • Suckling prevents postpartum hemorrhaging. Nursing her baby causes the mother’s body to release oxytocin, which stimulates contractions which help shrink the uterus back to prepregnancy size while expelling the placenta. These contractions also shut off the maternal blood vessels that formerly fed the baby and discourage excessive bleeding. Women who choose not to breastfeed should be given synthetic oxytocin to insure against hemorrhaging.
  • Life can be a lot easier for breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding may seem like it takes a little more effort than formula-feeding at first. But breastfeeding can make your life easier once you and your baby settle into a good routine. When you breastfeed, there are no bottles and nipples to sterilize. You do not have to buy, measure, and mix formula. And there are no bottles to warm in the middle of the night! When you breastfeed, you can satisfy your baby’s hunger right away.
  • Compare the difference in the diaper of a breastfed baby and a formula fed baby, seeing is believing.
  • Cows milk is designed for baby cows. Human milk contains completely different proportions of protein, fat, carbohydrates. Cows milk is designed to help put on weight quickly, grow amazingly fast, and develop only as much brain power as a cow needs. The hormones in cows milk are geared toward cows, not humans. The fact that human beings can even drink the milk of another species is sort of amazing when you stop to think about it.