Designed by nature, breastfeeding is the most natural way to provide safe nutrition to a newborn baby. Breastfeeding provides numerous benefits for the infant, mother, family unit as well as the community in the short and long term. There are benefits to the mother and child with respect to nutrition, gastrointestinal function, immune system and psychological well-being. Breastfeeding is safe, free and convenient, and full of natural goodness to enhance the health and well-being of the child.
It is believed that fatty acids and vitamins found in breast milk promote neural growth and brain development. There are probably other complex gene-environment interactions that also contribute to improved neuro-developmental outcomes in breastfed babies compared to formula-fed infants. Studies link breastfeeding to improved functions of vision, hearing and mean IQ based on cognitive testing.
The list of nutrients in breast milk is very long. While commercial formulas attempt to closely match human breast milk, and offer an excellent alternative for babies who can’t breastfeed, they are still lacking in some nutrients found in breast milk. The main one that comes to mind is maternal antibodies, which are proteins formed in the mother’s body to help her fight a whole host of organisms and prevent infectious diseases. This protection gets passed on to the baby via the mother’s breast milk. There are other nutrients and natural antimicrobial agents that we are just discovering which also provide protection to the baby.
Breast feeding reduces the risk of the baby getting ear infections, vomiting and diarrhoea, pneumonia, UTIs, forms of spinal meningitis, bronchitis and croup — this is true for a whole host of common acute infectious illnesses in babies, due to the transmission of the mother’s antibodies to the baby. In both developing and developed nations, breastfeeding reduces the risk of acute illnesses during the period the infant is breastfed. There is also a reduction in allergic diseases. In addition, in developing countries, there is an overall reduction in infant morbidity and mortality.
Breast fed babies are less likely to be obese on adulthood. Why? Because there are a number of publications providing good evidence of the protective effect of breastfeeding against obesity later in life. There are lots of hypotheses with regards to the causal relationship between breastfeeding and obesity. I believe the protective effect is multi-factorial. To start with, exclusively breastfeeding young babies allows the baby to titrate their feed volumes based on their individual hunger and growth needs. The total energy intake is less than that for formula fed babies. Other hormonal differences between breast milk and formula have also been suggested. It is also believed that breastfeeding helps with the regulation of food intake and overall energy balance.