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Tuesday, 05 June 2012 19:53

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Written by  The Muscat Midwife
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Are you wondering what all the hype about breastfeeding is? I mean, formula is there and supposed to be similar, right? We don’t have a gauge on our breasts that tells us whether they are empty or full – how on earth do we know if we are feeding our babies enough? And who knows what the quality of our breast milk is? It certainly looks completely different than formula – a little bit watery in fact. So is it enough to sustain a baby? And what exactly does exclusive breastfeeding mean?

I have in front of me a box containing the following items – each one of them symbolically represents a benefit of breastfeeding. Read through them as see if you can think what they are.

  • A dollar bill
  • A condom
  • A tape measure
  • A bottle of Tylenol
  • A watch
  • A cloth diaper
  • A Kindle
  • An injection syringe
  • A math textbook
  • A tube of children’s toothpaste
  • A pink breast cancer ribbon
  • A pair of glasses
  • A sanitary pad
  • A bottle of prune juice

Any ideas? Right then, read on – you may be surprised about these benefits!

  • A dollar bill - Breastfeeding saves money.  Depending on the formula, you could easily keep enough in your pocket for a mortgage payment each month. No doubt about it. The only extra cost to you is a higher grocery bill as you need to maintain a healthy, nutritious diet with lots of fresh fruit and vegetables – preferably organic. Which means your health is further sustained to sustain your baby. For a calculator and more information, go to Kellymom.
  • A tape measure - Double benefit! 1- Despite all that extra food you get to eat, you can STILL lose weight! Especially between 3-6 months postpartum; breastfeeding mothers lose more weight during this time than others (LLLI).  2- Maybe you thought that the tape measure represented your baby’s growth. Absolutely right! Breastfeeding is the food nature designed for optimal growth, physically and mentally. Breastfed and formula fed babies grow at the same rate until about 3 or 4 months. After that, formula fed babies gain weight faster (NPR). (Unfortunately, most clinics still use older growth charts based on formula fed populations, causing a misunderstood growth pattern in a breastfed baby. Download the growth charts for breastfed boys/girls from the CDC website, along with training and more information regarding growth.)Which leads us into:
  • A math textbook - Breastfeeding promotes brain growth, helping your baby optimize his intellectual potential. Incidentally, researchers wanted to know whether this was due to something in the milk itself, or rather to the extra time breastfeeding moms spend with their babies, or perhaps due to the fact that moms from higher socioeconomic and educational backgrounds are more likely to choose to breastfeed. They fed half of the experimental group – preemies in a NICU – breast milk via naso-gastric tube, and the other half specially enhanced preemie formula. The babies who got breast milk had IQs 7-10 points higher – up until age 8 – than those fed ABM. (If you are wondering why, it is mainly due to the lactose in breast milk as well as the long-chain-polyunsaturated fats- DHA and AA).
  • A watch – Breastfeeding saves time (no bottles or nipples to sterilize or wash, formula to measure, water to heat). You don’t have to worry about leaving a bottle at home while out, because it’s you.  Right container at the right temperature every time. Lift your tee and go.
  • A Kindle – Finally read that new novel everyone is raving about: download your favorite books or CD’s and read or listen to music while you feed. Once you know what you are doing, breastfeeding can feel time consuming and boring, especially if you have a sleepy nurser. Grab a cuppa and relax! Think extended loving eye contact.

  • A pink breast cancer ribbon - Breastfeeding protects moms (and their breastfed daughters) against breast cancer. Most benefits of breastfeeding are dose-respondent: the more exclusively you breastfeed and the longer you breastfeed, the more marked the effect of breastfeeding. If you breastfeed for a total of 24 months of your life, you would reduce your chances of pre-menopausal breast cancer by 25%. If you breastfeed longer, well, then your chances are even smaller. Several mechanisms are at work. Firstly, you reduce your lifetime exposure to estrogen as you will most likely have breastfeeding amenorrhea. Secondly, breast milk flushes impurities and toxins from the ducts. Thirdly, breast milk contains cancer-fighting substances, like HAMLET, that kills tumor cells. That is why breastfeeding protects children against cancers like leukemia and lymphoma.
  • A sanitary pad - Breastfeeding amenorrhea plus it reduces chances of hemorrhage after birth. (If you breastfeed according to the WHO recommendation, i.e. exclusively for 6 months and then with the addition of healthy foods until 2 years and beyond, then the average woman’s periods will only return when baby is around 14 months old.)
  • A condom - Breastfeeding has a contraceptive effect. Only barrier methods are safe to use until 6 weeks postpartum; after that only progesterone-containing hormonal contraceptives are safe. Estrogen-containing contraceptives should be used after weaning as estrogen lessens milk supply. The Lactation Amenorrhea Method (LAM) is only possible if you meet the following criteria:
    • Baby is younger than 6 months;
    • Your periods have not started again;
    • Baby is exclusively breastfed and doesn’t sleep through the night;
  • A box of tissues - Breastfeeding protects against allergies, has mood-elevating properties for moms AND is mildly protective against Post Natal Depression (effect of Prolactin and Oxytocin). Regarding allergies, this is why exclusive breastfeeding is so important. Babies are born with immature digestive systems. There are gaps between the cells lining the digestive tract, and these gaps are where allergens (like cow’s milk protein), viruses and bacteria pass through. The IgA in breast milk, however, plugs up these gaps like putty – nothing can get through. Think about HIV. Research by Coutsoudis and others have found NO additional transfer of the virus from mom to baby as long as mom breastfeeds exclusively.
  • A bottle of Tylenol – Breastfed babies have a better immune response to their immunizations. According to the WHO, about half a newborn baby’s immunity comes from colostrum.
  • A cloth diaper – This one has got to be my favorite. The smell. Breastfed baby poo is heavenly compared to the sticky smelly gunk that artificial milk makes.
  • An injection syringe - Breastfeeding promotes immunity; breastfed babies are sick much less often and breastfeeding acts as an analgesic (due to the sweetness of the milk and the endorphins released when feeding). So essentially your baby is immunized at the breast. However, breastfeeding should not be considered a 100% substitute for all immunizations. (Read here for more info). Baby’s saliva travels up ducts of the breast, your body recognizes the threat and within 8 hours there are specific immune bodies in your milk. Incredible huh?
  • A tube of children’s toothpaste - Breastfeeding protects against dental caries (cavities). A baby has to work harder for breast milk, it does not simply flow and pool in his mouth the way milk from a bottle does. Also, the ingredients of breast milk itself hinder bacterial growth.But wait, there is more - breastfeeding promotes optimal development of the mouth, face and jaw, so breastfed children are less likely to need orthodontics or speech therapy, AND they are also less likely to snore as adults. (Bet you wish your mother-in-law had breastfed!)
  • A pair of glasses - Breastfeeding promotes visual acuity. Plus, did I mention those long loving gazes that you get to share when breastfeeding? The perfect opportunity for eye contact – an essential tool of communication in later life.
  • A bottle of prune juice - Colostrum is a natural laxative, flushing out the bilirubin from baby’s system and preventing jaundice in the early days. Exclusively breastfed babies do not get constipated (at all!).

So there you have it – a LONG list of VERY GOOD reasons why breastfeeding is good for YOU and your BABY. And just in case you are not entirely convinced, well here are a few more:

  • Emotional benefits promotes bonding
  • Perfect baby food: all the nutrients in right proportions, nothing else needed for at least the first six months.
  • Reduces risk of SIDS
  • Reduces risk of obesity.
  • Convenient – always available, right temperature.
  • Moms get same amount, if not more rest (yes, research has proven this – but only after the first 2 weeks!)
  • Mom’s risk of osteoporosis is decreased.

Breastfeeding requires patience, persistence and perseverance. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and your ability to breastfeed and who will give you appropriate advice and assistance.

Other Sources:
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding La Leche League publication
NCT: www.nct.org.uk

Read 6773 times Last modified on Sunday, 10 June 2012 13:09
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