We all know that breastfeeding is beneficial for a child. But have you wondered in what ways exactly does your baby gain from it? Here are some facts, backed by science, on benefits of breastfeeding.
By Leena Ghosh
“Mother's milk, time-tested for millions of years, is the best nutrient for babies because it is nature's perfect food” - Robert S Mendelsohn
Breastfeeding bonds a mother to her child in a way no other act of love does. It not only nurtures your baby, but also helps to soothe him when he’s upset. It even helps him sleep. But, beyond these simple facts, there are quite a few other reasons why all experts recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. Here are some important reasons, backed by science, why you must give your child the gift of mother’s milk:
1. Promotes cognitive development
Breastfeeding your baby for an extended period has many cognitive benefits. Researchers who studied how breastfeeding impacts an infant’s cognitive development in the first three years found that the breastfed children fared better when compared to bottle-fed ones. According to the study, ‘Breastfeeding Duration on Cognitive Development in Infants: 3-Year Follow-up Study’, by Lee et al, published in the Journal of Korean Medical Science (2016), breastfeeding for an extended duration enhances a child’s cognitive development. The research stated, ‘The use and duration of breastfeeding and formula feeding were measured. The relationship between breastfeeding and the mental development index (MDI) score was analysed by multiple linear regression analysis. The results indicated a positive correlation between breastfeeding duration and MDI score. After adjusting for covariates, infants who were breastfed for more than nine months had significantly better cognitive development than those who had not been breastfed’.
Another study, 'Breastfeeding and Childhood IQ: The Mediating Role of Gray Matter', by Luby et al published in the Journal of the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry (2016), stated that breastfed children have more developed gray matter. The report said, ‘Breastfed children had significantly higher IQ scores and larger whole brain, total gray matter, total cortical gray matter, and subcortical gray matter volumes compared with the non-breastfed group in models that covaried for key variables’. Higher IQ scores can make your child smarter and help him achieve better academic results.
2. Boosts immunity
We all know that mother’s milk comes with many health benefits. It nourishes the child, is a source of vital nutrients for her growth and boosts her immunity levels. While these may be short-term benefits of breastfeeding, there are long-term benefits as well. According to studies, it helps prevent chronic diseases like cancer, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, hypertension and even obesity.
According to the study, 'The Long-Term Public Health Benefits of Breastfeeding', by Binns et al, published in the Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health (2016), ‘Breastfeeding has many health benefits, both in the short-term and long-term, to infants and their mothers’. The report further added, ‘The recent World Health Organization reviews of the short and long-term benefits of breastfeeding concluded that there was strong evidence for many public health benefits of breastfeeding. Other chronic diseases that are reduced by breastfeeding include diabetes (both type 1 and type 2), obesity, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, hyperlipidemia, and some types of cancer’.
3. Decreases risk of obesity
Researchers of a study found how breastfeeding an infant decreased his chances of becoming obese as an adult. The study, ‘Risk of overweight among adolescents who were breastfed as infants’, by Gillman et al, published in JAMA (2001) stated that, ‘Compared with subjects who had been breastfed for three months or less, those who had been breastfed for at least seven months had an adjusted odds ratio (OR) for being overweight of 0.80. In conclusion, infants who were fed breast milk more than infant formula, or who were breastfed for longer periods, had a lower risk of being overweight during older childhood and adolescence’.
4. Improves emotional and mental health
There is no love purer or stronger than the love of the mother for her child. And, breastfeeding helps make this bond stronger. Oxytocin, a hormone present in the mother’s milk, induces the ‘let-down reflex’, enabling the child to suckle. The hormone is thus passed from the mother to her child. Research has shown that oxytocin helps foster a stronger emotional bond between a mother and her child. In a book titled, 'Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals', published by the World Health Organization, session 2, the authors show how this hormone enhances the mother-child bond. An excerpt from the book reads: ‘Oxytocin induces a state of calm, and reduces stress. It may enhance feelings of affection between mother and child, and promote bonding. Pleasant forms of touch stimulate the secretion of oxytocin, and also prolactin, and skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby after delivery helps both breastfeeding and emotional bonding’.
In another study, researchers have concluded that breastfeeding for a shorter period of time results in behavioural problems and can be a predictor of mental health problems later. The study, 'The long-term effects of breastfeeding on child and adolescent mental health', by Oddy et al, published in the Journal of Pediatrics (2010) states that, ‘A shorter duration of breastfeeding may be a predictor of adverse mental health outcomes throughout the developmental trajectory of childhood and early adolescence’.
5. Provides economic benefits
One of the best things about breastfeeding is that it’s free. The book, ‘Quantifying the benefits of breastfeeding: A summary of the evidence’, by Leon-Cava et al, published in 2002, explains the economic impact of breastfeeding. An excerpt from the book reads as follows: ‘The analyses reviewed here show clearly that apart from being the safest and healthiest infant feeding method, breastfeeding is also the least expensive. For many poor households, the prohibitive cost of breast milk substitutes puts this option completely out of reach. For others, the impact of formula purchases on the household budget can be crippling. This is especially true when the unanticipated additional cost of health care for the sick infant takes its toll’.
Love comes in all forms. 'The breast way' is the best way of telling your baby that you love her.
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