Breastfeeding isn’t easy for most new mothers, but science is suggesting that it’s a struggle worth pushing through.
When it comes to health, it’s hard to beat mother nature’s medicines and breast milk is the most potent and important one!
Breast milk contains the perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat and even provides life-saving antibodies to support the fragile immune system of newborn babies (1).
How Breastfeeding Impacts Children Worldwide
A study published in the prestigious scientific journal The Lancet, breastfeeding could prevent the deaths of 823 000 children and 20 000 mothers each year as well as save roughly US$300 billion worldwide in family and state expense, including healthcare and formula cost (2).
While breastfeeding is common practice in developing countries, developed countries have incredibly low rates of breastfed children.
Just 1 in 5 children in high-income countries are breastfed to 12 months, whilst only 1 in 3 children in low and middle-income countries are exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months (3).
In the UK, only 1% of children are breastfed at 12 months old, in Ireland and Denmark, these numbers are 2% and 3% respectively (4).
Breastfeeding During The First 6 Months
It’s been suggested that exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and continued breastfeeding beyond the first year, could save nearly 820,000 lives worldwide. 87% of which are infants under six months of age (5). This number is equivalent to roughly 13% of all deaths in children under the age of two.
These numbers are mainly due to breast milk’s ability to prevent a third of sudden infant death and respiratory infections and about half of all diarrhea episodes that affect formula-fed infants (3).
“There is a widespread misconception that the benefits of breastfeeding only relate to poor countries. Nothing could be further from the truth,” explained Professor Cesar Victora from the Federal University of Pelotas in Brazil in a statement on the study.
Breastfeeding vs Formula
Many parents are lead to believe that formula contains just as many nutrients as breast milk. While many formulas are well-balanced, they cannot mimic breast milk’s effects on long-term health (6). A mother’s milk is also much easier for babies to digest.
Studies found that (1,6):
- Breast-fed children are more resistant to disease and infection early in life than formula-fed children. In developing countries, like Brazil, a formula-fed baby is 14 times more likely to die than an exclusively breast-fed baby.
• Breast-fed children are less likely to contract a number of diseases later in life, including juvenile diabetes, multiple sclerosis, heart disease, and cancer before the age of 15.
- Breastfeeding can help prevent sudden infant death syndrome and lower risk of juvenile cancers.
Breastfeeding Is Also Good For Mom
Breastfeeding is also important for the mother’s health, as it triggers the release of hormones that help her lose weight and shrink the uterus back to normal size. It can even lower her risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis (1).
Professor Victora underlines the value of natural milk over formula (3): “There is a widespread misconception that breastmilk can be replaced with artificial products without detrimental consequences. The evidence outlined in the Series, contributed by some of the leading experts in the field, leaves no doubt that the decision not to breastfeed has major long-term negative effects on the health, nutrition and development of children and on women’s health.”
Proteins In Breast Milk Fight Superbugs
Doctors often rely on new antibiotics to kill superbugs. But eventually bacteria always builds up resistance to those antibiotics too.
With the ongoing global threat of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, researchers have gone back to the basics to find a possible cure.
A 2013 study discovered that a protein found in breastmilk called Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor Cells (HAMLET) could make surface infections by the antibiotic-resistant bacteria MRSA more sensitive to attack by antibiotics (7).
MRSA-related infections kill roughly 11,285 people in the U.S. a year. HAMLET works by attacking the cellular membranes of these bacteria, controlling the flow of nutrients and toxins into or out of the cell.
While these researchers tried to figure out how to make the protein more powerful, another group of specialists discovered lactoferrin.
Lactoferrin, another breastmilk protein, was found to kill stubborn bacteria, fungi, and even heavily resistant viruses (8).
Instead of simply weakening the cellular membrane of harmful bacteria, lactoferrin pierces through this envelope, killing the cell in a matter of moments (9).
The National Physical Laboratory and University College London have re-engineered it to make it more effective. They hope to make this cure available to the public in the next few years.
How To Properly Breastfeed
Why wait for science to catch up with nature? Forget the drug and go right to the source.
The best way to have a positive nursing experience is to follow the ABCs (10):
Awareness : Watch your baby for signs of hunger and feed when necessary (about every 4 hours).
Be patient : feed your child as long as she needs. She should instinctively latch off after about 10-20 minutes of feeding per breast.
Comfort : relax and enjoy the time you have with your child. The more stressed you are, the more your baby will have a hard time latching unto your breast, causing you pain and inflammation.
Most women suffering from sore nipples engorgement and low milk supply find relief after changing the position in which they feed their baby.
This is because popular positions often cause a shallow latch, causing your nipple to be wrongly positioned in your baby’s mouth.
Most doctors recommend exclusively breastfeeding your child for the first 6 months and gradually introducing water and pureed food alongside breast milk for the next year or so.
If you’re having trouble breastfeeding or if you have any questions, consult your naturopath, GP or midwife.