This is a follow-up to the post Breast-feeding does not make your breast flappy, saggy or flat. Check it out if you haven’t already.
In this post I am going to talk about the biological, physiological and financial benefits of breast-feeding.
- It’s free/cheap
- It makes you baby healthy
- It makes your baby smart
- Breast milk is free. It is a free gift from God, nature or whatever you believe in for humans to nourish our offspring. If you choose to only feed straight from the breast, then you don’t even have to buy a sterilizing unit, bottles, pump or any other accessories. For the first year of life, you can literally feed your child for zero naira/dollars.
- Because your breast milk is so nutritious and is specially designed for your specific child, most or all of it gets absorbed by the child. This means minimum waste in terms of bowel movements (poop). How is this a financial gain you ask? Well, less bowel movements can equal less diapers or at least stinky diaper changes. So you are saving money and time.
- Unlike other options, breast milk digests itself and requires no water or additional aids for digestions. So you don’t have to buy/boil water for baby.
- Breast milk comes out at the perfect temperature so (if you are not pumping) you don’t need a bottle warmer.
- Breast milk makes your baby healthy. I will discuss this further in the biological section but for now, I just wanted to mention the financial side. Sick babies cost money in hospital care, medication etc.
Breast milk is special because it corresponds exactly to the child’s needs. It does this in several ways. The first being that it corresponds to the child’s nutritional needs for optimal development at the different stages. In the first few days of life, the breast milk is called Colostrum. The make up of colostrum is different from regular breast milk. Another way that breast milk corresponds to the child’s needs is that it adjusts to the time of day with breast milk produced at night containing relaxing agents to aid sleep. Also, when breast feeding, the milk at the beginning (foremilk) is different from the milk at the end (hind milk) when the breast is almost empty. So in different ways, breast milk conforms to the baby’s specific needs.
The following chart compares the components of colostrum to breast milk and cow milk which is what a lot of formulas are made from.
As you can see, the colostrum has a significant amount of protein and no fat.
The reason for the large amount of protein is to provide additional immunity to the child. The child in coming into a world filled with microbes and pathogens which it has to adapt to. Antibodies are attached to the protein in colostrum and protect the baby in the those first few days and he/she adapts. Also the antibodies are specific to the diseases/infections in the mother’s environment and so specially adapted for the child.
Colostrum has very little or no fat. In the first few days of life, the digestive system is just starting to work and the intestinal mucosa allows proteins pass through. The fat gradually increases day by day naturally stimulating the liver and pancreas to produce digestive juices. The colostrum secretes Immunoglobin A (IgA) which coats the mucous membrane with a thin film and prevents allergies.
Colostrum also stimulates the passage of meconium. Meconium is the first stool of the infant and is the accumulation of things the child ingested while in the uterus, digestive juices and cells from the intestinal walls and other waste.
So basically, the first breast milk, Colostrum is perfect for the newborn and helps with adaptation to life outside the womb.
Breast milk has other biological benefits.
- It reduces obesity
- It prevents ear, respiratory, gastrointestinal, urinary tract and other infections
- It reduces chances of asthma, eczema, childhood cancer and other diseases
Physiological: The strong muscular effort required for sucking helps prepare the facial bones which are not completely developed at birth for teeth. It enlarges them so that there is enough space for permanent teeth when the time comes. This advantage involves not just breast milk but specifically breast-feeding because sucking from the breast requires more effort than taking milk from a bottle. This is one way you can help ensure your child has good dentition. Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months may also protect children from developing fluorosis. Apart from making one attractive, a good smile opens many doors and is definitely an asset.
Intellectual: The human milk is the only milk that contains Taurine, an amino acid that is essential for neural development. Remember we talked about neurons and how the brain is made up of them. Breast milk also contains Omega-3 fatty acids without which neurons would not function properly. Multiple studies have shown that children who are breastfed exclusively for at least 6 month and extensively (over 8 months) perform better in quantitative and verbal tests. They show a higher IQ in both reasoning and verbal IQ tests. They also reached motor development milestones earlier on average than children who were not exclusively breastfed.
Benefits to the Mother:
- Breastfeeding causes the uterus to contract and reduces postpartum bleeding
- It reduces the risk of postpartum depression
- It reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers
- Provides an opportunity to relax and bond with your child which is mutually beneficial to mother and child
I would like to make some clarifications. Breast milk can be offered directly from the breast or from a bottle. While offering from a bottle is better than not offering breast milk at all, some of the advantages mentioned above are specifically tied to breast-feeding. I will quickly re-iterate them.
- Financial saving associated with feeding accessories
- Development of facial bones
- Adaptation of breast milk to different times of the day. Breast milk fed or expressed at night contains relaxing ingredients intended to help the child sleep. Bottle feeding mums can still take advantage of this. They just have to note when the milk was expressed and ensure they are not feeding milk expressed at night during the day and vice versa as this may cause sleeping issues.
Part of a good life is being healthy, happy, smart and content. As you can see, breast milk supports all of this and so is another block in the foundation for a good life.
Again, this post is purely informational and not intended to judge anyone’s decisions. I realize there are many factors that go into decisions about whether to breastfeed and for how long but just like the last post, I just want anyone making these decisions to have information (in this case, the benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding) available to them. It is a very personal decision and you should make the decision that is best for you and your child.
There is so much research on the benefits of breast milk and breast-feeding. I have tried to highlight some of them but this article of by no means exhaustive. Please feel free to do your own research.
As always, I would love to hear your thoughts, experiences and any questions. Please leave a comment!
Live a GoodLife!
*The chart is by Dr. Silvana Quattrocchi Montanaro and is provided in the AMI Assistants to Infancy Training. She has a similar chart in her book “Understanding the Human Being which I highly recommend for any expectant mother.