4 Important Health Benefits for Breastfed Babies
Women have often heard the health benefits they receive when they breastfeed their children. This includes but isn’t limited to a reduced risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis later in life. It also helps them lose weight and naturally delays the conception of another child.
However, the greatest health benefits of breastfeeding are reaped by the child. And there’s growing evidence that shows the different benefits children can get from breastfeeding, not only on a physical level but on a psychological level as well. The following are five important health benefits for breastfed babies.
The Improved Immune System
New research released by Antibodies.com has highlighted all the benefits of breastfeeding for infants. One of the biggest benefits is the immune system boost the child gets from the mother’s milk, which is why exclusive breastfeeding for more than four months has been shown to reduce hospitalisation risks for respiratory tract infections by up to 72%.
It was also shown that pre-term babies who were fed breast milk had 60% fewer chances of developing enterocolitis, and the odds of a gut infection and inflammatory bowel disease were also cut by two-thirds. This is probably due to the colostrum – the first form of milk produced by the mammary glands which contains antibodies to protect the newborn against disease – that coats the baby’s digestive system with good bacteria before harmful bacteria can colonise it.
The immunological benefits extend to the child’s own immunological responses. For example, breastfeeding a child for at least four months cuts their risk of eczema, dermatitis, and asthma by a third. These same children have half the risk of developing celiac disease, and they are less likely to suffer from ear infections and colds. This may or may not explain why breastfed children have half the risk of SIDS or cot death as other children.
Breast milk provides a number of antibodies to the child that reduces their odds of contracting other infections such as diarrhoea which have historically been life-threatening in the developed world, and still kill millions of young children in the developing world today. This is why the study suggested that universal, exclusive breastfeeding would save the lives of over 800,000 children a year.
In less serious cases, children who were breastfed generally recover faster than a formula-fed child because the baby picks up the mother’s antibodies. It is generally safe for the mother to breastfeed when ill, and in fact, the protective components in her milk typically increase in response to her infection.
Research has also shown that breastfed babies are less likely to develop leukemia and lymphoma, which means that breastfeeding lowers their odds of developing cancer later on.
The Metabolic Benefits
Mothers have probably heard about how breastfeeding helps them return to a healthy weight faster, and it turns out that breastfeeding provides metabolic benefits for the child as well. For example, the child’s odds of developing Type 2 diabetes are up to forty percent lower, while the risk of developing Type 1 diabetes is up to thirty percent lower. These benefits last a lifetime too, as breastfeeding lowers the odds of your child becoming obese as an adult.
The Psychological Benefits
Breastfeeding could also literally boost your baby’s brainpower as well. In recent studies, it was shown that infants who were breastfed tend to do better on IQ tests. This is correlated to the extra 20 to 30 percent white matter found in toddlers and pre-schoolers who were breastfed exclusively for the first three months of life.
One of the reasons why this could be so is because of special nutrients found in breast milk. Breast milk has been shown to be high in various long-chain fatty acids, such as DHA, for instance. DHA has been shown to have a positive effect on brain development and brain health in general.
Children who were breastfed were also less prone to behavioural problems at school. For example, one study has shown that breastfed children were one third less likely to show behavioural problems at age five. This all adds up, and more importantly, the benefits extend beyond their early years.
A British study found that infants who were exclusively breastfed for the first six months or more earned higher grades at age 16. Meanwhile, a Brazilian study found that breastfeeding for the first year was correlated with higher average wages at age 30. This was even seen when factors like mother’s education and household income were considered.
This is aside from the intense emotional connection breastfeeding fosters between mother and child. Simply breastfeeding the child creates a secure, loving relationship. Breastfeeding will soothe an ill or upset child, too. In fact, you could breastfeed your child while they are receiving their vaccinations to provide natural relief to the pain. And because breastfeeding raises levels of oxytocin, the bonding hormone, it may help your child cope better with stress later in life.
Recent studies have dispelled the myth that breastfed infants wake more often for feedings at night, and have found that breastfed infants actually get back to sleep sooner. This is because the oxytocin created when breastfeeding makes both mother and child more tired, and other hormones created when breastfeeding help the child develop a healthy sleep-wake cycle.
The Overall Benefits Seen in Preemies
A number of health benefits of breastfeeding are seen in premature infants in particular. Breastfed premature infants have a lower risk of sepsis and chronic lung disease. Breast milk is also the ideal food for them, helping them to gain weight as quickly and healthily as possible, which means they are more likely to come home early from the hospital. This is why breastmilk is considered a medical intervention for premature infants.
Breastfeeding has been shown to provide an amazing array of health benefits, and the evidence to support this is building. Furthermore, breastfeeding benefits your child for their entire lives. This is why you should strongly consider breastfeeding as an option, if this is a possibility for you.