The benefits of breast feeding

Breast milk is full of goodies that boost your baby’s immune system. There are many other benefits to breast feeding, too. 

 

There’s good reason why the saying ‘breast feeding is best’ is so popular. Breast feeding has many benefits for your baby and you – which is why it’s a great idea to try to breast feed for at least the first six months of your baby’s life. 

First days of breast feeding

Straight after birth and for the first few days of breast feeding, your breast milk is called colostrum. This incredible golden/yellow coloured milk is nutritionally complete and, more importantly, contains essential antibodies to help protect your baby from infections. Colostrum is low in fat and high in protein, too. They only need tiny amounts per feed and have extra brown fat stores to keep them going until your milk supply starts to come through (around day 3). Colostrum is high in carbohydrates, high in protein but low in fat which is why it’s very sticky.

Ongoing benefits for your baby

After the first few days, your breast milk changes. In fact, its complex composition constantly adapts to meet your baby’s developing nutritional and immune requirements.

For example, as you come into contact with new infections, your baby will get some immunity from them through your breast milk. Further, breast feeding may reduce his risk of developing eczema, asthma and allergies later in life; and has been shown to reduce the likelihood of obesity and related conditions such as type 2 diabetes.

Oligosaccharides are special carbohydrates found naturally in breast milk. They encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in the digestive system, which can help prevent potentially harmful bacteria from attaching to the wall of the intestines or gut. This supports your baby's natural defences from the inside.

Your baby also needs a continuous supply of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs), things like Omega-3 – which are in your breast milk from birth – for the development of his brain, eyes and nervous system. You should eat LCP-rich foods such as oily fish when breast feeding.

A beautiful bond

Breast feeding helps cement the connection between mother and child. Holding your baby while he feeds provides intimacy and comfort. Skin-to-skin contact helps to regulate his heart beat and body temperature, too.

Health benefits for you

Breast feeding is beneficial for mums, too. One study suggests there could be a positive effect on postpartum weight loss for women who breast feed beyond six months1. It can also delay the return of your menstrual cycle, which may help maintain your iron levels.

Recent studies have found that breast feeding has a number of other long-term advantages for mums. It's said to improve metabolism and reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer2. Some evidence suggests that extended breast feeding may also reduce the risk of type 2 diabetes3. The benefits are dose related, which means that the more exclusively and the longer you breast feed, the higher the overall benefits. 

 


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References

  1. Dewey KG, Heinig MJ, Nommsen LA. Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation. Am J Clin Nutr. 1993;58 (2): 162–6.
  2. Baby Friendly Initiative. Breastfeeding Research available at: https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/news-and-research/baby-friendly-research/maternal-health-research/ovarian-cancer/ and https://www.unicef.org.uk/babyfriendly/news-and-research/baby-friendly-research/maternal-health-research/maternal-health-research-breast-cancer/
  3. Stube A et al. Duration of Lactation and Incidence of Type 2 Diabetes. JAMA 2005;294: 2601-2610.

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