Importance of Breastfeeding

Importance of breastfeedingHumans are mammals. Mammals produce milk specifically designed for their young.

The components of breastmilk help to mature the gut and protect babies from infection.

The act of breastfeeding supports, not only the physiological growth and development of the baby, but also the psychological development by enveloping the baby in the warmth, smell and taste of familiarity.

Until the 1860's babies were breastfed - if not by their mother then by a wet-nurse.

Infant formula, otherwise referred to as artificial baby milk or a breastmilk substitute, was designed for emergency use when a baby was abandoned or following the mother's death. They are produced using the milk of another animal or, in the case of soy formula, the juice of a plant. Sadly the use of these products has increased despite the knowledge that they are associated with health risks for both the baby and the mother.

A mother who breastfeeds her baby is less likely to develop breast cancer1, uterine cancer2 and ovarian cancer1. She is less likely to suffer from hypertension4 and rheumatoid arthritis5. This is because the hormonal response in her body, by breastfeeding, has a protective effect. The longer she breastfeeds the better the protection.

Babies who are not breastfed have an increased risk of developing atopic disease6, obesity7, Type 1 Diabetes8, gastroenteritis9, Coeliac disease10, hypertension11 and otitis media12, to name a few.

Breastfeeding is important for other reasons - not just for health but to the environment. Waste products associated with artificial baby milk feeding such as packaging, bottles, teats and tins contribute to pollution; and the cost per household of purchasing the product, heating and sterilising expenses equates to over $1000 per year.

For optimal health the World Health Organisation, and the New Zealand Ministry of Health recommend a baby be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding to the second year of life and beyond, alongside the addition of appropriate, adequate complementary food.

  1. Gonzalez-Jimenez E, Garcia PA, Aguilar MJ, Padilla CA, Alvarez J.  Breastfeeding and the prevention of breast cancer: a retrospective review of clinical histories.  J Clin Nurs. 2013 Aug 13;
  2. Sugawara Y, Kakizaki M, Nagai M, Tomata Y, Hoshi R, Watanabe I, Nishino Y, Kuriyama S, Tsuji I.  Lactation pattern and the risk for hormone related female cancer in Japan: the Osaki Cohort Study.  Eur J Cancer Prev. 2013 Mar; 22(2): 187-92.
  3. Luan NN, Wu QJ, GongTT, Vogtmann E, Wang YL, Lin B.  Breastfeeding and ovarian cancer risk: a meta-analysis of epidemiologic studies.
  4. Samantha J, Lupton, Christine L Chiu, Sanja Lujic, Annemarie Hennessy, Joanne M Lind, PD  Association between parity and breastfeeding with maternal high blood pressure.  American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology Volume 208,Issue 6, Pages 454.e1-45e7, June 2013.
  5. Pikwer M, Bergstrom U et al.  Breast-feeding, but not oral contraceptives, is associated with a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis.  Ann Rhuem Dis 2008.
  6. Fooladi, AA, Khani S, Hosseini HM, Mousavi SF, Aghdam EM, Nourani MR.  Impact of altered early infant gut microbiota following breastfeeding and delivery mode on allergic diseases.  Inflamm Allergy Drug Targets. 2013 Dec; 12(6): 410-8.
  7. Michiyo Yamakawa,; Takashi Yorifuji, Sachiko Inoue, Tsuguhiko Kato, Hiroyuki Doi.  Breastfeeding and Obesity Among School children: A Nationwide Longitudinal Survey in Japan.  JAMA Pediatr. 2013; 167(10): 919-925.
  8. Joao Guilherme Bezera Alves, Jose Nata Figueiroa, Jucille Meneses, and Guilherme Victor Alves.  Breastfeeding Protects Against Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus.  BREASTFEEDING MEDICINE.  Volume 7, Number 1, 2012.
  9. David R. Hill, Hyunjin K. Rho, Sean P. Kessler, Ripal Amin, Craig  Homer, Christine McDonald, Mary K. Cowman and Carol A. de la Motte.  Human milk hyaluronan enhances innate defense of the intestinal epithelium.  J. Biol. Chem. published online August 15, 2013.
  10. Anneli Ivarsson, Ann Myleus, Fredrik Norstrom, Maria van der Pals, Anna Rosen, Lotta Hogberg, Lars Danielsson, Britta Halvarsson, Solveig Hammarroth, Olle Hernell, Eva Karlsson, Lars Stenhammar, Charlotta Webb, Olof Sandstrom and Annelie Carlsson.  Prevalence of Childhood Celiac Disease and Changes in Infant Feeding.  Pediatrics 2013; 131;e687.
  11. Amorim Rosemary de Jesus Machado, Coelho Alexsandra Ferreira da Costa, Lira Pedro Israel Cabral de and Lima Marilia de Carvalho.  Is Breastfeeding Protective for Blood Pressure in School children?  Breastfeeding Medicine.  December 31, 2013.
  12. Salah M, Abdel-Aziz, Al-Farok A, Jebrini A.  Recurrent acute otitis media in infants: analysis of risk factors.  Int J Pediatr Otorhinolaryngol.  2013 Oct; 77(10): 1665-9.


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