Health benefits of breast milk - Infant Nutrition

Sep 19, 2021 - 18:18

Each year in the U.S. roughly 27% of infants and children are affected by the disease. Breastfeeding can lower the risk of respiratory, gastrointestinal, and other potentially life-threatening diseases.

It offers protection against obesity and diabetes later in life, too. Breast milk is proven to be chemically different for each mother and infant pair. For example, a premature infant's mother will have different milk than a mature infant's mother. Breast milk can also change if an infection is detected in the infant. This natural prevention is tailored toward each infant.

Preventing anaemia with Brest Feeding: Breastfed infants are at a lower risk for acquiring iron-deficiency anaemia. Infants that only consume cow's milk become deficient in iron and are 50% more likely to lose blood in their stool.

If the infant is allergic to cow's milk, it causes inflammation of the digestive system, resulting in chronic blood loss and decreased absorption of iron. This is why infant formula must be iron-enriched if breastfeeding is not possible. Breast milk naturally contains lactoferrin, an iron-binding protein that allows better iron absorption and digestion. Allowing the baby to absorb more iron leads to better gut health of the infant.

Preventing obesity: Breastfed infants tend to have a lower incidence of obesity later in life. Breast milk leads to a slower weight gain in early infancy and is protective against child obesity and the development of type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is a serious health problem where the body does not use insulin correctly. This diagnosis can cause many complications of the skin, eyes, feet, nervous system, heart, and kidneys. Therefore, it is important to prevent diabetes when possible, because it goes hand-in-hand with obesity.

When an infant is breastfed, they are exposed to a variety of flavours due to the mother's changing diet and breast milk. A study showed that later in life breastfed children are more likely to eat a variety of healthy foods; this happens because food preferences are ingrained early in life. So, when an infant is exposed to a variety of flavors early on, they are less likely to be picky eaters later. Another study confirmed a decrease in obesity at ages two years and four years if the infant is exclusively breastfed for at least the first four months. Therefore, breast milk is proven again to be the best nutrition without causing obesity.

Infant sleeping: SIDS (crib death) is an unexplained death occurring in an infant who is one year of age or younger. Most deaths occur when the infant is sleeping. Breastfeeding helps reduce the risk of SIDS when done exclusively for any length of time. It is recommended to breastfeed the infant from birth to 6 months exclusively to decrease the risk of SIDS by 50%.

Diarrhoea and upper respiratory illnesses, both linked to a higher risk of SIDS, occur less frequently for infants who are breastfed when compared to babies that are not breastfed, thus reducing the risk. Also, breast milk provides necessary nutrition for the infant's brain to develop.

This allows the brain of the baby to mature quickly enough so that he or she will have the response to gasp for air when needed. Lastly, breastfed babies tend to sleep for shorter periods at a time and awaken more easily.

Research has shown that babies who sleep shorter and awaken from their sleep easily tend to have a lower risk of SIDS. Conclusively, most incidences happen when the infant is asleep, so it is important to exclusively breastfeed in order to reduce the incidence of SIDS.

Promoting digestive health: Breast milk is important for the infant's digestive system. It is the best substance to give, especially over cow's milk. Infants cannot properly digest fats, which cow's milk is full of. Breast milk contains a lot of fat, too, but it also contains lipase, a substance to help break down the fat to aid in digestion. This leads to infants passing softer stools, so constipation is rare in breastfed infants.

Human milk also allows beneficial bacteria to grow in the infant's intestines, which protects the mucosal barrier of the infant's stomach. This prevents harmful pathogens from harming the infant's intestinal lining. The infant's digestive mucosa is unable to produce antibodies until they are about four to six months old, which makes the infant susceptible to many infections. However, breast milk provides the antibodies needed for the infant to stay protected until they are able to produce their own antibodies.

Breast milk also stimulates a microbiota, which results in the production of IgA. IgA is an immunoglobulin that is a first line of defense to protect the digestive tract of the infant. This immunoglobulin is much higher in infants that are breastfed than in infants that were infant formula-fed.

From Colostrum to Breastmilk. (Days after birth): Colostrum is a great source of nutrition for a newborn baby, it is a thick yellow fluid that the mother produces first after birth. It has valuable nutrition that aids the baby with building immunity because it helps destroy disease-causing viruses.

Other benefits of colostrum include: prevention of jaundice, aiding the baby in passing their first stool, building a strong immune system, providing a great number of vitamins and protein, and prevents low blood sugar in babies.

Overall, the sticky, thick, yellow liquid called colostrum has many benefits for a newborn baby which can be only provided to the baby through breastfeeding. Breast milk also contains much more protein than cow's milk. It contains 60% protein whereas cow's milk contains only 40% protein.

Protein is very important for infants because they need more protein per pound than adults do. For the first few months of their life, this protein must come from breast milk or infant formula, it cannot come from cow's milk.

One specific protein that breast milk has is lactoferrin, which is bacteriostatic, meaning it prevents the growth of harmful bacteria. Without this protein, the baby cannot produce the immunity that its body desperately needs, resulting in a higher risk of disease and malnutrition. Breast milk provides the best source of protein for an infant.

Another immunoglobulin breast milk provides to the infant is known as IgG. IgG provides passive immunity from the mother to the infant. This means that antibodies for common childhood diseases like diphtheria, measles, poliomyelitis, and rubella are passed onto the infant naturally, if the mother was immunized for these diseases in her lifetime. The infant is then protected for about 3 months, just enough time to protect them until they receive their first immunizations at 2 months.

Promoting intelligence: Parents generally want their child to be as smart as possible and to excel in school. Breastfeeding an infant can increase their intelligence throughout life. Mothers who exclusively breastfed their child have a higher chance of increasing their child's intelligence. Studies have shown that infants that are breastfed for six months versus infants who were only breast fed for one month have a higher intelligence score. Those children tend to have a higher intelligence score in the third and fifth grades. Their intelligence scores are also higher at the age of 15 years.

Breastfeeding aids in the development of cognitive maturity which leads to a higher intelligence. However, this only correlated to those children who were exclusively breastfed by their mothers as infants.

Promoting oral health : Dental caries (more commonly known as tooth decay or cavities) is the most common chronic childhood disease.[21] The transition from breastfeeding or bottle feeding can be a challenging time for both parent and infant. Importantly, it represents a time where the risk for development of dental caries begins with the eruption of the first baby teeth. Transition from breastfeeding/bottle-feeding usually coincides with the introduction of solid foods that may contain substances (i.e. sugars & other carbohydrates) that can cause dental caries. The consumption of cow’s milk and other non-breast milk beverages (i.e. juices) at 6 weeks to 12 months of age significantly contributes to dental caries at 5 years.[22] There is a relationship between prolonged and inappropriate bottle use and increase in dental caries and as such, it is recommended that infants be encouraged to drink from a cup by their first birthday and be weaned from the bottle by 12–14 months of age. Breastfeeding cessation is dependent upon the infant and mother. Pacifier may be used as a means of soothing or distracting the infant. Due to the risk for dental caries, dipping pacifiers in sweetened liquids (i.e. sugar water, juice etc.) is discouraged.

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