When I first learned I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. It just made sense to me. As I learned more about it through our childbirth class I became fascinated with it.
One of the most amazing things I learned is the physical interaction between breast tissue and baby’s mouth. To this day I find this completely awesome. When you nurse your baby about a zillion things are happening through that priceless skin to skin contact. Perhaps the coolest is the interaction that takes place with the actual physical contact between tissues. There is an exchange of information about what the baby needs more or less of nutritionally. So the next time they nurse they have more and less of what they need. Your milk is designer milk! It is tailored to your baby’s needs throughout the day. Fascinating, yes? Yes!
I am always curious about the facts about anything and it turns out that there is an excellent source for these particular facts, “Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries” (April 2007) and it was prepared by a team of investigators at the Tufts-New England Medical Center Evidence-Based Practice Center in Boston. They “screened over 9,000 abstracts. Forty-three primary studies on infant health outcomes, 43 primary studies on maternal health outcomes, and 29 systematic reviews or metaanalyses that covered approximately 400 individual studies were included in this review.”
Since this study is about health outcomes in developed countries, the claims that breast is only best if you don’t have access to clean water or enough money to buy formula can be confidently refuted.
Here is a summary of the scientific facts determined about breastfeeding:
Benefits for baby:
There are a number of health benefits to the breastfed child, some of them are significant and others are less significant. For full term infants the benefits include:
Acute otitis media (middle ear infections): Babies that were ever breastfed had a 23 percent lower incidence of acute otitis media than exclusively formula fed babies.
Atopic dermatitis (type of eczema): In families with a history of atopy, exclusive breastfeeding for at least 3 months was found to have a 42 percent reduction in atopic dermatitis compared with breastfeeding for less than 3 months.
Gastrointestinal infections: Infants who were breastfeeding had a 64 percent reduction in the risk of non-specific gastroenteritis compared with infants who were not breastfeeding.
Lower respiratory tract diseases: There is a 72 percent reduction in the risk of hospitalization due to lower respiratory tract diseases in infants less than 1 year of age who were exclusively breastfed for 4 months or more.
Asthma: Breastfeeding for at least 3 months was associated with a 27 percent reduction in the risk of asthma for those without a family history of asthma and a 40 percent reduction for those with a family history of asthma.
Type 1 Diabetes: Breastfeeding for at least 3 months results in between a 19 and 27 percent reduction in incidence of childhood Type 1 Diabetes compared with breastfeeding for less than 3 months (findings confirmed through multiple studies, but some cause for caution in interpreting results).
Type 2 Diabetes: Found a 39 percent reduction in risk of Type 2 diabetes later in life for people that were breastfed as infants (some cause for caution in interpreting results).
Childhood Leukemia: Breastfeeding for at least 6 months associated with 19 percent decrease in risk of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia and a 15 percent decrease in the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS): The meta-analysis found that breastfeeding was associated with a 36 percent reduction in the risk of SIDS compared to not breastfeeding. Another study completed since the meta-anlaysis was done found a 50 percent reduction in the risk of SIDS as a result of breastfeeding.
It turns out that IQ, obesity and risk of cardiovascular disease can’t be solely connected to breastfeeding, other factors seem to contribute.
Benefits for mom:
Let’s not forget that breastfeeding benefits the mother as well. Women that are having trouble breastfeeding and considering giving up should think about not only their child’s health, but also their own health and weigh the short-term issues they are having with breastfeeding against the longer term potential health benefits:
Maternal type 2 diabetes: In women with no history of gestational diabetes, each additional year of breastfeeding resulted in a 4 to 12 percent reduction in the risk of maternal type 2 diabetes (only nurses included in these studies though, so interpreting results for general population must be done with care).
Breast cancer: A reduction of risk of contracting breast cancer of 4.3 percent for each year of breastfeeding (one study) or 28 percent for 12 or more months of breastfeeding (another study).
Ovarian cancer: Breastfeeding results in a 21 percent decrease in the risk of ovarian cancer.
Weight-loss, osteoporosis and PPD haven’t been scientifically proven to be a benefit of breast-feeding.
There are some people who say there no or very few benefits to breastfeeding. After you consider the source, ask what information they have to back up that claim. If they reference Hanna Rosin’s “The Case Against Breastfeeding” then know that she only read a select few studies on breastfeeding, in particular those that would support her claim that perhaps the benefits were few and far between. Then point them to “Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries” and tell them to call you when they’re done with it and you talk.
(Source: PhD in Parenting)
I find it important to point out that not everyone can breastfeed. Sometimes the milk just doesn’t come in, at no fault of the mother. Medical issues can also interfere. I recommend all mothers struggling to nurse get plugged to a support group like La Leche League as well as contact a lactation consultant if things just aren’t improving. I heard from someone in our Attachment Parenting group that the lactation consultant she called came to the house and didn’t leave until things were going smoother. Also, never underestimate yourself or your drive to nurse. I have a friend who’s twins were in the NICU and had feeding tubes. This determined mama rented the best of all breast pumps and those babies got nothing but her milk through those tubes. Go mama!
And don’t forget, breastfeeding is cool!!
If you are having pain from nursing, as well as plugging in to a support group (this helps above all else in my opinion) check to see if your little one has a tongue tie or an upper lip tie. These are not automatically checked at the hospital or by a midwife. If you live in the Midwest, go to Dr. Margolis in Buffalo Grove, IL. He is one of two pediatric dentists in the country with Master Certification in laser dentistry. He fixed our second son’s upper lip tie and he was fantastic.