By Dra. Josephine Holgado
Breastfeeding is the most important aspect of disease prevention and healthy development on human life. It is the learning process of mother and child, according to Dr. Berthold V. Koletzko, a Professor in Pediatrics at the Dr von Hauner Children's Hospital in Ludwig-MaximiliansUniversity in Munich, Germany whose clinical and research works are focused on metabolism and nutrition in childhood, pregnancy, and lactation, inborn errors of metabolism, lipid metabolism, obesity and clinical nutrition.
Breast milk is also the best food to give, especially in the newborn and infant because of the benefits that it can give. First, it bonds the mother and the child. It creates a direct connection between them and thus fulfills the need for understanding, for responsiveness and attention that makes the child resilient later on in life.
Breast milk is also the only natural food stuff that a newborn can digest. It is finely attuned to the needs of the child depending on the age and its composition changes based on that need unlike the powdered milk which can be significantly older than the child. The chemical analysis of breastmilk has shown the fluctuating levels of salt, fats, proteins and carbohydrates as it changes over time which cannot be observed in any artificially produced infant formula or food.
Breast milk contains antibodies against viruses and bacteria that can help protect your baby against diarrhea, respiratory illnesses, ear infections and even bacterial meningitis. It also contains bacteria that act as "starters" in the development of a healthy intestinal flora in children which enables the complete breakdown of food, eliminates dangerous microorganisms, synthesizes important absorbable vitamins and prevents the adhesion of harmful bacteria to the intestinal wall. The colonization of the digestive tract is based on the maternal vaginal flora in vaginal births and also by the bacteria in the breast milk.
The human immune system starts in the digestive tract of which two thirds are located in this area. Breastfeeding ensures that the child's immune system develops the ability to keep the balance between aggression, delimitation and killing of anything foreign on one hand and the tolerance for what belongs to the body or self, on the other which correlates with the development of the intestinal flora. Thus, the thymus of breast fed children are strongly more developed than the thymus of those who have not been breastfed.
Breastfeeding also promotes a healthy immune tolerance and immune regulation especially after the introduction of solid food. It also helps keep the intestinal content, intestinal flora and intestinal wall apart because it creates a stable "mucosal block" which is a living layer of mucosa that separates the intestinal content and the intestinal wall while keeping the intestinal flora sterile and thus decrease the risk of developing certain diseases like chronic inflammatory bowel disease, asthma and allergy.
Based on research studies done on obesity in children, it has been shown that breastfed infants develop better self-regulation with regard to food intake and the feeling of satiety with clear dosage-effect relationship so that that the prevalence of obesity decrease as the breastfeeding period is prolonged. Breastfeeding also actively supports brain development and can have a positive influence on intelligence. In a study done in Christchurch, New Zealand on the connection between breastfeeding period and cognitive abilities as well as exam performance from ages 8-18 years old among 1000 individuals, it has been found out that a longer breastfeeding period was significantly associated with the following findings, namely: better performance of intelligence at the age of eight and nine, better reading and mathematical performance from the age of 10 to 13 and better final exams at age 18.
The protein in human breastmilk is utilized almost without loss during the up-building of the child's body so that it does not put a great burden on the work of the kidneys to eliminate nitrogen unlike half of the protein of powdered milk.
Breastfeeding also cuts the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) by half because it stabilizes the breathing of the child. Prolonged breastfeeding is also good for the development of your baby's jaw and prevents lazy eating habits because nursing from the breast takes more effort than drinking from a bottle. Most fully breastfed infants simply learn to drink from a cup and never use a bottle.
It's not just the child who benefits from breastfeeding. Exclusive breastfeeding is associated with a natural method of birth control of about 98 percent protection in the first six months after a woman gives birth. Other benefits are reduction on the risks of breast and ovarian cancer later in life, faster return to pre-pregnancy weight and decreased rate of obesity.
Avoid beverages that contain chocolates, alcohol and caffeine while you are breastfeeding because these have side effects on your baby. Lactating mothers who binge on chocolates produce theobromine in their milk, which can cause irritability or decreased bowel activity in infants. Drinking large amounts of alcohol produces ethanol, which can cause weakness, decrease in linear growth, and abnormal weight gain in babies. It can also decrease the mother's milk ejection reflex. Caffeine produces irritability and poor sleeping pattern in children, especially if the lactating mother consumes more than two to three cups per day.