Breastfeeding is a top priority given its paramount importance to the health of both mother and child. Research continues to reveal more breastfeeding benefits and positive impact. New study suggests that breastfeeding may help prevent cognitive decline with age.
WHO recommends early initiation of breastfeeding within 1 hour of birth; exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life; and. introduction of nutritionally-adequate and safe complementary (solid) foods at 6 months together with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, breastfeeding reduces the risk of many chronic diseases, including asthma and obesity.
Breastfeeding benefits for the baby
Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. It is particularly effective against infectious diseases because it strengthens the immune system by directly transferring antibodies from the mother.
Strengthening the immune system: Breastfeeding strengthens the baby’s immunity, thus preventing infection and decreasing the risk of allergies, asthma, obesity and other chronic diseases. Breast milk contains antibodies that can fight infection. Breast milk also is made up of other proteins, fats, sugars and even white blood cells that work to fight infection in many different ways. They are especially helpful in fighting gastrointestinal infections, since breast milk heads right to the stomach and intestine when your baby eats.
Improving brain function: Medical research confirms that a mother’s milk contains fatty acids that help in the child’s brain development as well as his mental abilities such as cognition, memory, concentration and logical thinking. Breast milk has probiotic factors, too. Some support the immune system and others serve as a nutrient source for healthy bacteria in the body, called the human microbiome. The healthy microbiome can play a lifelong role in not only preventing infection. In the same context, many studies have linked the high IQ of children with breastfeeding, as it was found that it improves learning and memory skills due to the fact that breast milk contains nutrients such as docosahexaenoic acid, which positively affect the child’s brain development.
Digestive health: Breast milk contributes to improving the health of the digestive system and increasing its efficiency because it contains insulin and cortisol, in addition to amino acids that play a major role in the development of the child’s digestive system, which limits the incidence of various digestive system infections, and reduces cases of constipation, diarrhea and various disorders that the child may face during the early stages of growth in the first months
of his life.
Prevention of chronic diseases: Breast milk prevents chronic diseases, whether in childhood or in the future, in addition to preventing childhood cancer, especially leukemia, as well as heart disease, reducing the incidence of type 1 diabetes in children, and protecting against immune diseases such as various allergies and asthma.
Soothing the baby and better sleep: The strong bond between the mother and her child is established during cuddling and breastfeeding, so the child feels calm and reassured, which relieves his tension, crying, and even his pain because of his connection with his mother during breastfeeding. The baby’s sleep also improves because the mother’s milk secretes the hormone melatonin, which plays a sedative role, reduces colic and helps the baby enjoy a comfortable sleep.
Balanced Nutrition: The advantage of a mother’s milk is that it provides the appropriate nutrition for the baby’s age, and the longer a woman breastfeeds, her breast milk’s composition changes, which helps in providing the appropriate nutrition for the child at different stages. A study has shown that after one year of breastfeeding, breast milk becomes rich in fat and energy, which meets the child’s needs and provides him with the right nutrition for his age.
Strengthening the bond between mother and child: Women who breastfeed for a longer period feel the real meaning of motherhood, and this is reflected in their children’s lives, and a strong bond is established that makes the mother able to read her child’s signals, and become more flexible in her behavior with him.
Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother
Cancer prevention: Breastfeeding reduces the risk of the mother developing cancer because certain hormones are secreted in the breast that contribute to preventing the formation of cancerous cells in it. Breastfeeding mothers are less likely to develop breast cancer than non-breastfeeding mothers, and the longer the mother breastfeeds, the lower the risk of developing this disease.
Breastfeeding also contributes to reducing the risk of developing uterine and ovarian cancer due to the low levels of estrogen hormone during breastfeeding. The more times you breastfeed if you have more than one child, the more these hormones are secreted, and thus the mother’s chances of being protected against breast cancer increase compared to other mothers who did not breastfeed their children or who breastfed their children for a shorter period of time.
Prevention of osteoporosis: Research indicates that breastfeeding mothers are four times less likely than non-breastfeeding mothers to develop osteoporosis, and they are also less likely to have hip fractures during menopause.
Uterine contraction: Breastfeeding helps the uterus shrink back to its normal position because breastfeeding helps secrete oxytocin, which causes uterine contractions that help shrink the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size and contributes to the prevention of uterine cancer.
Reducing mental disorders: Breastfeeding helps reduce depression, stress and anxiety that the mother experiences after pregnancy and through the lactation stage.
Weight loss: Breastfeeding helps to lose weight and increases calorie burn, so the woman loses the kilograms she gained during the months of pregnancy. During breastfeeding, the body consumes the fat stored during pregnancy, and therefore breastfeeding regularly and for long periods of time helps to get rid of this fat and lose weight. During breastfeeding, it is important that the mother eats a healthy and balanced diet that contains fiber, fluids, natural sugars and protein.
Psychological effects of breastfeeding on mothers and children
There are countless psychological effects and benefits, whether for the mother or the baby. These moments in which the mother cuddles her child contribute to creating a strong intimate relationship between them, giving the child tenderness and warmth. It is the first real containment process for the child after his birth. The mother holds her newborn baby close to her chest to make him feel loved and safe.
Breastfeeding creates a bonding experience between mother and child because it promotes skin-to-skin contact, more holding and stroking. Many experts say that affectionate bonding during the first years of life helps lessen social and behavioral problems in both children and adults. Breastfeeding can also help mothers learn to read their infant’s cues and can help babies learn to trust caregivers. This helps shape a baby’s early behavior.
In addition to providing physical benefits through critical nutrients, research shows that breastfeeding also has a deep and lasting effect on thought and understanding, behavior, and mental health in children.