Research in the last 10 years makes it impossible to summarise all the immunologic properties and actions of breast milk. The common comment, “Breast milk has antibodies,” is a huge understatement. Newborn infants’ immune systems are immature and inadequate at birth. Infants have limited abilities to respond effectively and quickly to infectious challenges, therefore they are more susceptible to infections. There are many components in breast milk that helps support newborn infants’ immune system. And immunologic benefits of breast milk has a dose-response effect. It means the more breast milk ingested, the greater the immunity. Partial is better than not breastfeeding. EVERY SINGLE DROP COUNTS.
1) Protection against gastrointestinal and respiratory infections
Gastrointestinal and respiratory infections are associated with more emergency room visits, hospitalizations and treatments with antibiotics. Breastfed infants are less likely to be hospitalised for respiratory infection and, if hospitalised, are less seriously ill. When your baby is ill less often, it means fewer sick days for you.
- Risk of wheezing was 50% lower for at-risk breastfed infants. (Burr Ml, Limb ES, Maguire MJ, et al 1993)
- 64% reduction in episodes of vomiting and diarrhea due to gastrointestinal infections such as stomach flu and rotavirus. (Ip S, Chung M, Raman G, et al 2007)
- 72% reduction in risk of getting lower respiratory tract disease such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis. (Ip S, Chung M, Raman G, et al 2007)
2) Reduce incidence of acute otitis media (inflammation of middle ear)
Suckling at the breast protects the inner ear. Incidence of acute otitis media is 50% lower in breastfed infants than formula-fed infants.
3) Psychological & cognitive benefits
Brain imaging shows that there is an increased white matter and healthy neural growth in breastfed babies, resulting in higher cognitive function and higher performance intellectually. Docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and taurine in breast milk support human brain growth, especially in the first year of life. Studies show visual acuity developed more rapidly in the breastfed infants. Even when DHA was added to formula, the performance by breastfed infants was still better.
4) Lower SIDS risk
Breastfeeding lowers your baby's risk of sudden infant death syndrome by about half. (Vennemann et al., 2009)
5) Helps decrease risk of adult obesity
Bottle fed babies (regardless of breastmilk or formula) are encouraged to finish every drop and this continues with later feeding habits to clean the plate and take more. Breastfed baby takes what he wants, nothing more. Leptin in breastmilk help to regulate body weight during infancy. (Miralles et al. 2006) Leptin also regulates appetite, food intake and energy metabolism.
6) Long term benefits for cardiovascular health
Higher levels of cholesterol in breast milk provides long term benefits for cardiovascular health. Coronary artery disease is less frequent in individuals, up to 20 years of age, who were breastfed. (Bergstrom et al. 1995)
7) Immunologic protection
Breastfeeding exclusively for at least 4 months reduce incidence of childhood lymphoma (cancer that affects the immune system), type 1 insulin-dependent diabetes and Crohn disease (inflammatory bowel disease).
Breastfed infants at high risk for developing allergic symptoms such as eczema and asthma by 2 years of age show a reduced incidence and severity of symptoms in early life.
Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 3 months is associated with a reduced risk for atopic dermatitis in children with a family history of atopy.
Prolonged breastfeeding (from suckling) at the breast provides a mechanical stimulus to improve lung function at 10 years old.