“Breast is Best.” “The WHO recommends that babies should breastfeed from 6 months up to 2 years.” We’ve read these statements dozens of times. But what is the rationale behind them?
In this post, I will attempt to summarize the evidence pointing to the clear superiority of breastfeeding over formula-feeding, with data and statistics sourced from the American Academy of Pediatrics, healthychildren.org, womenshealth.gov and La Leche League International:
- Breastmilk provides all the nutritional needs of babies and it even changes according to his age and needs.
- Breastmilk provides immunologic support by means of antibodies, immune factors, enzymes, and white blood cells. The baby is thus protected from diseases to which the mother is immune and to which she has been exposed. It even protects him from pathogens to which he was exposed; the baby passes them on to the mother, and the mother then manufactures antibodies to them which she then passes back to the baby on their next feeding.
- Breastmilk is much easier to digest compared to formula.
- Breastmilk facilitates the growth of healthy gut flora in the baby.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of hospitalization for lower respiratory tract infections by 72%.
- It reduces the incidence of Otitis Media by 23%.
- It reduces the incidence of nonspecific gastrointestinal infections by 64%.
- It reduces the risk of Necrotizing Enterocolitis (NEC) by 58%.
- It reduces the incidence of Allergies and Asthma by 27-42%.
- It reduces the risk for Acute Lymphocytic Leukemia (20%) and Acute Myelocytic Leukemia (15%).
- It reduces the risk of Obesity by 15-30%.
- It decreases the incidence of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) by 36%.
- It reduces the risk of developing Celiac Disease by 52%.
- It reduces the risk of developing childhood Inflammatory Bowel Disease by 31%.
- It reduces the incidence of Type 1 Diabetes Mellitus by 30%, and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus by 40%.
- It lowers the incidence of sepsis, NEC, hospital readmissions, long-term growth failure, retinopathy of prematurity, and neurodevelopmental disabilities among premature infants.
- It leads to a higher intelligence score if the baby is breastfed for 3 months or longer.
- It facilitates skin-to-skin contact and mother-child bonding by the release of hormones (especially oxytocin) that promote mothering behaviors.
- It reduces the risk of infant illness from an unclean water supply or tainted formula.
- It reduces the risk of mortality in infants. Research shows that if 90% of families breastfed exclusively for six months, nearly 1,000 deaths among infants could be prevented each year.
The baby is not the only one who benefits from breastfeeding. The mother profits as well:
- Decreased postpartum blood loss and more rapid involution of the uterus.
- Increased child spacing secondary to lactational amenorrhea.
- Decreased risk for postpartum depression.
- Decreased post-pregnancy weight.
- Decreased risk for type 2 Diabetes Mellitus by 4-12% for every year of breastfeeding.
- Decreased risk for Rheumatoid Arthritis.
- Reduction in Hypertension, Dyslipidemia, and Cardiovascular disease.
- Reduction in Breast Cancer risk by 28% if one has breastfed for 12 months or more.
- Reduction in Ovarian Cancer
And of course, there’s the economic standpoint–formula is horrendously expensive compared to breastmilk, which is free. And in the simplest scenario, the mother needs nothing more than her own body to feed her baby, compared to bottles, nipples, sterile water, and formula, all of which may be unavailable in times of disaster or financial constraint.
Breastfeeding is even better for the environment, as there is less waste to deal with in the form of formula packaging and other discarded feeding paraphernalia.
What other advantages to breastfeeding do you know of?