Breast milk is the best form of infant nutrition according to every source I have ever encountered. This pediatric white gold is so tailored for an infant that researchers are not trying to improve breast milk; rather, researchers are trying to replicate it in laboratories. Infant formula manufacturers are stating that their formulas are similar to breast milk in regards to their chemical make up. These manufacturers are adding DHA and AA, which are fatty acids needed for brain development. What manufacturers cannot add are the immune defenses offered by human breast milk. I feel very secure in stating that there will never be anything superior to breast milk because I know the following:
1. Breast milk contains immunoglobulins that provide babies immunity from certain diseases for several months of the infant's life.
2. Breast milk is a complete form of nutrition for the first year of life. This means that children can only drink breast milk without any food supplementation and develop normally during their first year.
3. Allergy to breast milk is virtually nonexistent.
4. Proper development of the jaw and teeth are fostered.
5. Breast milk is associated with higher IQ and better grades in school.
6. Breast feeding reduces the risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and childhood leukemia.
7. It builds a stronger immune system.
8. Sophia’s Children Hospital in Rotterdam states exclusive breast feeding reduces respiratory and gastrointestinal infections.
9. Breast feeding may shield children against SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). About 2,300 children die from SIDS every year.
According to the American Diabetes Association, there are also advantages that breast feeding offers to women, which include:
1. Women who breast feed have less dense breast tissue. Studies have shown that women, who breast fed, have a reduced risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
2. Women can burn about 500 calories per day by breast feeding an infant.
3. Less postpartum bleeding occurs due to the faster shrinking of the uterus and a faster return to the menstrual cycle.
4. Better bone density is noted.
5. Mothers have a reduced risk of post partum depression.
6. It is cost effective. Breast milk is free. This economy might lend itself to an increase in breast feeding.
7. It is convenient because you don’t have to prepare bottles or formula. You can feed your child without preparations of any sort.
The National Survey on Children’s Health reports an increase in breast fed infants. The significant increases are noted among White, Black and Hispanic women. About 75 percent of US women breast feed. By 6 months of age, that number has dropped to 43 percent with only 13 percent exclusively breast feeding (CDC, 2011). The Healthy People 2020 (an organization designed to improve the health of US citizens) objectives for breast feeding include increasing the percentage of breast fed infants to 82 percent initially, increasing breast fed infants to 61 percent at 6 month of age and increasing the rate of breast feeding to 39 percent at 1 year of age. The rate of breast feeding drops substantially by 6 months of age (just in time for tooth eruption).
There are situations women should not breast feed. Here are some good reasons:
1. Women with active Tuberculosis infection (TB) and HIV because these infections can be passed to the infant.
2. Women who take illegal drugs, women who do not have control over their alcohol consumption, or a history of these problems.
3. Certain chronic conditions, which may require women to take medications, which can cross over into the breast milk.
4. Some women who have had breast surgeries that may have removed mammary tissue or other breast surgeries that may have altered breast tissue further inhibiting breast feeding. These women need to check with their doctors but hopefully these questions were addressed prior to breast surgery.
Always check with your health care provider regarding concerns about breast feeding. Woman can breast feed while taking antibiotics, birth control and a variety of medications that were once thought to prevent a woman from breast feeding. There are programs today that are trying to promote breast feeding starting from the hospital admission of the pregnant woman. The push for nursing and medical personnel to foster breast feeding is on the rise and supported by state, federal and private sponsors. When in the hospital, women should take advantage of the lactation consultants, whose only job is to facilitate the breast feeding process.
Next week I will discuss how to breast feed. Stay well.