Posted on August 9, 2013
On the heels of celebrating World Breastfeeding Week, let's take a look at the benefits of it. For most women and children, breastfeeding is a win-win health decision. Vital to health, breast milk contains cells, hormones and antibodies that protect babies from illness. Children who are breastfed are less likely to develop conditions such as asthma and lower respiratory infections. Research shows that breastfeeding also can help reduce the risk of Type 1 diabetes in children later in life. Short-term benefits for babies include better digestion. Because the proteins in formula are made from cow’s milk, it takes time for babies’ stomachs to adjust to digesting it. Most babies, especially premature infants, find breast milk easier to digest.
The first milk that is produced from a woman’s breast is colostrum. Often referred to as liquid gold, a woman produces the thick, yellowish-colored breast milk during pregnancy and just after birth. This milk is very rich in nutrients and antibodies. Babies only get a small amount of colostrum at each feeding because their tiny stomach can’t hold large amounts.
Colostrum is transformed into what is called mature milk. By the third to fifth day after birth, this mature breast milk contains the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein to help a baby continue to grow. It is a thinner consistency than colostrum, but provides a baby with all the nutrients and antibodies needed for continued development.
How long should a baby be breastfed? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, but for longer if mom and baby desire. The World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.
Moms may want to breastfeed as long as they want, and as long as their schedules and lifestyles permit. Research shows that mothers benefit from the bonding that takes place during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding requires a mother to take some quiet relaxed time to bond. The skin-to-skin contact can boost the level of the mother’s levels of oxytocin, a hormone that calms mom and helps the milk to flow. There are additional health benefits for mom too. Breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of certain diseases such as diabetes and breast cancer.
The physical contact is good for babies too. It helps newborns feel more secure, warm, and comforted.
Courtesy of Donna Makris, RN, a certified lactation consultant and coordinator of Parent Education, at Saint Peter’s University Hospital. Visit our website to learn more about lactation support.
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