Many mothers-to-be are undecided on whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed their babies with formula milk. While not all babies take to the breast as easily as others do, and many simply refuse to altogether, breastfeeding should remain a top priority as the benefits to babies far outweigh any they can derive from the best formula milk in the market.
The American Academy of Paediatrics (AAP) strongly recommends mothers feed their babies exclusively breast milk for the first six months of life and continue breastfeeding for at least 12 months.
Here are the reasons why breast milk is good for babies:
1. Custom-made for babies
Breast milk changes its constitution over time to meet a baby’s changing needs, something formula milk isn’t able to do.
Within the first hour of delivery, a mother produces colostrum, also known as “pre-milk”. Colostrum is rich in antibodies to protect a newborn who is naturally vulnerable to infections.
It is estimated that 22% of newborn deaths caused by lung infection and diarrhoea, could have been prevented if they were breastfed within the first hour of birth.
Moreover, breast milk has a higher concentration of protein and a lower concentration of sugar than “full” milk, thereby being able to satisfy a baby’s hunger for longer periods of time, even if fed in small amounts.
A mother starts producing mature milk three to four days after delivery. This milk is higher in both sugar and volume than colostrum to meet a baby’s calorie requirements. Although containing less carbohydrates and protein than formula milk, mature milk is better absorbed and digested by babies.
2. Protects babies from infections and diseases
Numerous studies have shown that breastfeeding protects babies against infections, diarrhoea and vomiting, sudden infant death syndrome, and childhood leukaemia.
Exclusive breastfeeding (meaning no solid food, formula, or water) for at least six months has been shown to offer the most protection. Breast milk, specifically colostrum, contains secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA) that forms protective layers on the mucous membranes of babies’ intestines, nose, and throat, guarding them against invading bacteria and viruses. Other components in breast milk such as lactoferin, lysozyme and bifidus factors can also boost the immune system of babies.
3. Breastfeeding makes babies smarter
Many are attracted by the inclusion of DHA in baby formula, believing it can indeed make babies smarter. However, they are also unaware that breast milk actually helps in a baby’s cognitive development.
Various worldwide studies have concluded from IQ scores and other intelligence tests that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding significantly improves cognitive development.
Experts say human milk contains fat (long chain fatty acid) necessary for brain development. This fat also helps build brain connectivity and makes your child more intelligent. Some also say the emotional bonding between a mother and her baby during breastfeeding could likely contribute in some degree to a baby’s added brainpower.
4. Protects babies from developing allergies
Studies have shown that babies fed formula milk are more likely to develop allergies to certain foods than breastfed babies. Scientists believe this is due to the lack of secretory IgA in cow’s milk.
Secretory IgA, found only in breast milk, helps prevent allergic reactions to food by providing a layer of protection to a baby’s intestinal tract. Without this shield, inflammation can occur and undigested proteins can leak out from the walls of the intestine, cross the gut and cause an allergic reaction.
5. Protects babies from certain diseases in adulthood
If you think breast milk only benefits babies during the neonatal period, think again. The protective effect of breast milk is not only present during the breastfeeding stage, but persists beyond childhood.
Studies have shown that the transfer of human milk antibodies and other immunologic substances during breastfeeding protects one from contracting childhood cancers.
This explains why children fed mother’s milk for more than six months are less likely to develop acute childhood leukaemia and lymphoma compared to those fed formula milk.
Breastfeeding is also shown to reduce the incidence of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and inflammatory diseases later in life.
6. Helps prevent childhood obesity
Evidence suggests breastfeeding may also slash the risk of contracting non-communicable diseases later in life including offer protection against a child becoming overweight or developing childhood obesity.
It has been proposed that exclusive breastfeeding precludes inappropriate complementary feeding practices that could lead to unhealthy weight gain.
The higher protein and total energy content in formula milk is also thought to lead to increased body weight during the neonatal period which may contribute to obesity later in life.
7. It’s free
Instead of spending a tidy fortune on formula milk, why not feed babies this natural, highly nutritious milk that is completely free of charge?
For a baby, breast milk is invariably the best. Besides allowing for mothers to bond better with them, it helps a mother’s uterus contract and ceases after-delivery bleeding more quickly. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer in women. All the more reason why mothers-to-be should breastfeed their babies rather than rely on formula milk for their nourishment during the crucial early stages of life.
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