Good nutrition during infancy is essential for lifelong health and well-being. It is well documented that “Breast is Best” when it comes to infant feeding. A little-known fact is the health benefits of breast-feeding are dose-dependent. This means that every day, week, month and year of breastfeeding improves the health of both the mother and child.
Every child a mother breast-feeds adds to her lifetime health benefit. The longer she breast-feeds each child, the lower her risk becomes of developing breast cancer, uterine cancer, diabetes and osteoporosis. Women also tend to have lower BMI’s when they have breast-fed multiple children or even one child for a longer duration.
The protective nature of breast-feeding is unparalleled for children. This is how the benefits stack up for them:
A few days: During the first few days after delivery, mothers produce a small amount of milk called colostrum. Colostrum often is called the first vaccine because of its concentrated dose of antibodies and nutrients. Breast-feeding for a few days can prevent jaundice.
Six weeks: Nursing for the first six weeks can help ease the transition from womb to world by forming a secure mother-baby bond. During those first six weeks, breast-feeding lessens colds, colic, digestive problems and SIDS rates for newborns.
Six months: Both the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breast-feeding for the first six months. Following these recommendations will reduce your baby’s risk of developing ear infections, food allergies, childhood cancers, asthma and respiratory infections. It’s a common myth that breast milk loses its nutritional value after six months. Not true. The antibody and nutrient levels actually increase in concentration as babies start to nurse less often.
One year: Breast-feeding for a minimum of one year will lessen your child’s chance of developing diabetes by 50 percent. Obesity, cancer and high cholesterol rates also are substantially reduced well into adulthood. IQ scores improve with long-term breast-feeding. Did you know there is no recommended age for weaning? AAP recommends a minimum of one year and WHO says at least two years.
Two years: Breast milk continues to provide immune support at 2 years and beyond. Toddlers explore the world with their hands. Often these dirty hands end up in their mouths. This age greatly benefits from the immunities in breast milk. Many mothers continue nursing at this age because of the strong emotional connection they feel with their child. Dr. Bill Sears, a well-known pediatrician, says that breast-fed toddlers are more secure and independent. Breast-fed toddlers also are less likely to need braces or speech therapy.
No matter how long you chose to nurse, know that every day counts. Take it one day at a time and continue as long as you and your baby would like. The health benefits for both of you will last a lifetime.
Marjorie Mearkle is a lactation consultant for Nature to Nurture. This weekly column is a collaboration of Centre County Communities that Care serving Bald Eagle, Bellefonte, Penns Valley and Philipsburg-Osceola area school districts, and Care Partnership: Centre Region Communities that Care serving the State College Area School District.