‘Breastfeeding is the best feeding’ is the most important thing to remember when it comes to feeding your baby. The World Health Organization advises six months of exclusive breastfeeding, and prefers continuance of breastfeeding till two years, even after addition of other types of foods. Here are some main reasons why.
- Breast Milk is nature’s own perfect food.
- It is uniquely individualized for each baby and each stage of baby’s growth and development.
- It offers multiple health benefits to the baby and the mother.
- It is convenient and free.
Now let’s go into some more details to know why exactly ‘Breastfeeding is the best feeding.’
How is Breast Milk superior to Formula Milk?
Breast Milk is:
- Natural and Species-specific food. (Human Milk for Human Baby!)
- Always available on demand. At right time, in right amounts, at right temperatures.
- Perfectly balanced in nutrients
- Easy to absorb.
- Uniquely tailored for each stage of baby’s growth and development.
- Having multiple health-boosting protective factors in-built.
Formula milk attempts to mimic the composition of breast milk, but its nutritional profile is not as complete, as beneficial, or as easily absorbed. It is made from animal milk (most commonly from Cow’s Milk) and needs multiple modifications to mimic Human Milk. It is a generalized and not individualized feeding formula.
What are the beneficial nutritional factors in Breast Milk?
Here are some of the beneficial nutritional factors in breast milk that make breastfeeding the best feeding option:
The first milk produced by the mother, colostrum, is rich in antibodies, proteins, and other immune-boosting factors that help protect the baby against infections.
- Essential Fatty Acids:
Breast milk contains a balanced mix of essential fatty acids, such as omega-3 and omega-6, which are critical for the development of the baby’s brain and nervous system.
Breast milk contains lactose, a type of sugar that is easily digested by the baby’s body and provides energy for growth and development.
- Vitamins and Minerals:
Breast milk contains a variety of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, C, D, E, K, and B-complex, as well as iron, calcium, and zinc, which are essential for the baby’s growth and development.
Breast milk contains enzymes that help with digestion and nutrient absorption, making it easier for the baby’s body to absorb and use the nutrients in breast milk.
Breast milk contains hormones such as insulin, leptin, and thyroid hormones, as well as growth factors like epidermal growth factor (EGF). These components help regulate the infant’s metabolism, growth, and development.
It also has hormones such as prolactin, which helps stimulate milk production, and oxytocin, which helps with milk let-down and bonding between the mother and baby.
How does Breast Milk improve baby’s immunity against infections?
Breast milk contains a variety of anti-infection protective factors that are not present in formula milk, making it further optimal food for infants. Here are the examples.
Breast milk contains high levels of antibodies, particularly immunoglobulin A (IgA), which help protect against infections in the respiratory and gastrointestinal tracts. These antibodies are specific to the mother’s own infections, providing personalized protection for the infant.
- White blood cells:
Breast milk contains various types of white blood cells, including neutrophils, macrophages, and lymphocytes. These cells contribute to the infant’s immune defense and help fight off pathogens.
- Enzymes and antimicrobial factors:
Breast milk contains enzymes such as lactoferrin, lysozyme, and lipase, which have antimicrobial properties. These components help inhibit the growth of harmful bacteria and viruses in the infant’s digestive system.
- Cytokines and growth factors:
Breast milk contains cytokines and growth factors that support the development of the infant’s immune system, gastrointestinal tract, and other organs. These bioactive factors help regulate inflammation, promote tissue repair, and support healthy growth.
Breast milk is rich in complex carbohydrates called oligosaccharides. These substances act as prebiotics, nourishing beneficial bacteria in the infant’s gut and promoting the development of a healthy gut microbiome. A healthy gut microbiome is essential for immune function and protection against pathogens.
Breast milk contains nucleotides that play a role in various physiological processes, including immune function, DNA and RNA synthesis, and cellular signaling.
What are the various health benefits of breastfeeding for the baby?
Breastfeeding benefits to baby:
- Protection Against Infections:
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), breastfed babies have a lower risk of developing infections and illnesses compared to formula-fed babies. The types of infections it protects against are:
Ear infections (Otitis Media)
Respiratory infections (Pneumonia, Bronchiolitis)
Gastrointestinal Infections (Diarrheas, Necrotizing Entero-Colitis)
Urinary tract infections
Meningitis and sepsis
- Better Cognitive Development:
Breastfeeding has been linked to better cognitive development and intelligence in children. A study published in the Lancet Global Health Journal found that children who were breastfed for at least six months had higher IQ scores compared to those who were not breastfed or breastfed for a shorter duration.
- Reduced Risk of Chronic Diseases:
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), breastfeeding can reduce a baby’s risk of developing many chronic health conditions later in life, like:
Type 1 and 2 diabetes
Some childhood cancers
- Protection against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
What are the health benefits of breastfeeding, for the Mother?
Breastfeeding not only provides health benefits for the baby but also for the mother.
Health benefits for Mother:
- Faster Recovery:
Breastfeeding releases hormones that help the uterus to contract, leading to a faster recovery after childbirth. According to the National Health Service (NHS), breastfeeding can help reduce postpartum bleeding and lower the risk of postpartum depression.
- Disease Prevention:
Breastfeeding has been shown to provide protection against certain serious maternal diseases such as:
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Type 2 diabetes
- Cardiovascular disease
- Rheumatoid arthritis
Studies have seen that the longer the mother breastfeeds, the health protection increases.
How does Breastfeeding improve the mother-baby emotional bonding?
Breastfeeding plays a significant role in promoting emotional bonding between a mother and her infant. Here is how it happens:
- Skin-to-skin contact:
When a mother breastfeeds her baby, it often involves direct skin-to-skin contact. This physical closeness and touch release hormones such as oxytocin, also known as the “love hormone.” Oxytocin promotes feelings of love, trust, and bonding between the mother and baby.
- Eye contact and facial expressions:
While breastfeeding, mothers and babies often establish eye contact and engage in facial interactions. These moments of connection can deepen the emotional bond between them, promoting feelings of closeness and attachment.
- Mutual responsiveness:
Breastfeeding requires the mother to be tuned to her baby’s cues and needs. The responsiveness and sensitivity displayed by the mother during breastfeeding help the baby feel secure and loved, fostering a strong emotional bond between them.
- Emotional regulation:
Breastfeeding can help regulate the baby’s emotions by providing comfort and reassurance. The close physical contact and the act of nursing can help calm and soothe the baby, promoting a sense of security and trust in the mother-infant relationship.
- Prolactin hormone:
The release of the hormone prolactin during breastfeeding not only stimulates milk production but also has a calming and nurturing effect on the mother. This hormonal response can contribute to a sense of emotional connection and bonding with the baby.
It’s important to note that while breastfeeding can facilitate emotional bonding, it is not the only way to form a strong bond with your baby. Loving and responsive caregiving, regardless of the feeding method, can also promote emotional attachment and bonding between a mother and her infant.
Why is Breastfeeding more practical than Formula Feeding?
Breastfeeding is a cost-effective and convenient way to feed a baby, as it is free and does not require any equipment or preparation. Formula feeding can be expensive and requires the purchase of formula, bottles, and sterilizing equipment.
- Breastfeeding is the natural, safe, healthy, easy, practical and economical way of feeding your baby.
- Breast Milk is a unique, personalized, easily absorbed and perfectly balanced food for your baby in each stage of early growth and development.
- Breast Milk contains many beneficial nutritional and immunity-boosting components which are not present in Formula Milk.
- Breastfeeding offers multiple health benefits to the baby and the mother.
- So, the saying ‘Breastfeeding is best feeding’ is a proven, research-backed advice!