Recent research has highlighted a wonderful component of breast milk which perhaps no one suspected in the past. A mother's milk can change its make-up to suit the baby's requirements at a specific time of need.
How does this work?
When the baby drinks from the breast, a vacuum is created through which the baby's saliva can make its way into the mother's nipple. It is believed that the mammary gland receptors interpret the saliva for signs of bacteria and viruses and, if they detect something not right ( for example the baby is sick or fighting an infection), the mother's body will change her milk's immunological composition - making sure it suits her baby's particular pathogens by producing customized antibodies. While breastfed babies have lower instances of colds and viruses anyway, when they do get sick we now know that they are often able to recover more quickly because of the antibodies produced by the mother - which are specific to the baby's infection.
Isn't this wonderful?
This has been confirmed in scientific studies which can be found here
- giving the full background of what they did and found. Of course, we know that it is not always possible for a baby to be breastfed and a mother should never
be made to feel guilty on any level when this happens or when she chooses not to. There may be other reasons such as fostering and adoption of course. Many of us baby boomers were not breastfed because bottles and formula were the fashion at that time in the 40s and 50s and we survived and thrived. But of course, fashions change and breastfeeding came right back into vogue once more and now most experts are in agreement that "breast is best". The percentage of US infants (who begin breastfeeding) is 77%. While there is concern that infants are not breastfed for as long as recommended, the National Immunization Survey data show continued progress has been made over the last ten years. Of infants born in 2010, 49% were breastfeeding at six months, up from 35% in 2000. It is so important too that if mothers return to work that their employers are especially sympathetic and accommodating in whatever way they can.
But there are so many other benefits from breastfeeding too
- The recipe for mother's milk is one that has been perfected for millions of years.
- It leads to the best overall health outcomes for children. The World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend that babies be exclusively breastfed for a minimum of six months.
- It can mean higher IQs and lower rates of childhood obesity. One long term study (spread over thirty years) concluded, as well as being the healthier option, that breastfeeding can make your baby smarter and wealthier too. Their research found that typically an infant breastfed for at least a year gained a full four IQ points, spent an extra year in education and earned more money – equivalent to about one third of the average income level at the age of 30 – compared to those breastfed for less than one month.
- Breast milk includes all the vitamins and nutrients a baby needs in the first six months of life. But of course, this does depend to some extent on what the mother herself is eating and drinking. Vitamin D is a good example of this. The flavors and contents of food and drink taken by mothers are in turn transmitted to their milk and to their babies.
- Colostrum is the name given to the thick golden liquid that is the first food for baby after giving birth, being high in carbs and proteins and easily digested by the newborn as its first feed.
- Mature breast milk follows on with a full list of nutrients, minerals and vitamins. The principal carbohydrate in breast milk is lactose, which provides all the calories and energy necessary to fuel babies' relentless round-the-clock growth.
- Breast milk is also filled with plenty of good bacteria - so important for vital gut health and to keep the digestive systems working properly.
And not forgetting that the longer you breastfeed, the better mothers do later in life too. The benefit of this miracle food is not just for babies.
- Breast milk protects babies against stomach bugs, chest infections, asthma and allergies while conferring other health advantages in later life. Breastfeeding cuts the risk of asthma by 37% in those under the age of three and 17% in those children of seven and older. With one in eleven children now having asthma, any help in bringing down those numbers is to be welcomed.
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