Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of an infant's life with the introduction of appropriate complementary foods, for at least the first year and beyond.(Photo: FamVeld, Getty Images/iStockphoto)
August is recognized as National Breastfeeding Awareness month. Itfocuses to educate and raise awareness on the importance of breastfeeding and the many significant health benefits for newborns.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologistsand the Canadian Pediatric Society, nothing can compare to the nutritional benefits of a mothers breastmilk.
Accordingly, exclusive breastfeeding is recommended for the first six months of an infant's life with the introduction of appropriate complementary foods, for at least the first year and beyond.
Likewise, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding for the first two years of an infant's life.
Both moms and babies benefit from breastfeeding.
Margaret Nemethy is a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner for Pediatrics in Brevard's Melbourne office.(Photo: Provided)
Short-term benefits include improvement in neurobehavior and gastrointestinal function, prevention of illness and improved mortality rates for infants.
Long-term benefits can include prevention of acute and chronic conditions and improved neurodevelopmental outcomes.
In addition, benefits of breastfeeding for mothers include a reduced risk of postpartum blood loss and delayed ovulation.
Long-term benefits may also include prevention of cancer, cardiovascular diseaseand Type 2 Diabetes.
From a clinical standpoint, human milk is a living biologic substance of macro and micronutrients.
Human milk contains living cells, growth factorsand immuno-protective substances.
Germ fighters in human milk include immunoglobulins, proteins present in the serum and cells of the immune system function as antibodies; lysozymes, an antimicrobial enzyme; lactoferrin, another multi-functional protein; white blood cells and stem cells.
Breast milk also contains free fatty acids and monoglycerides; bile salt-stimulated lipase, an enzyme which aids in the digestion of fats; mucins (protein), and human milk oligosaccharides, which have prebiotic and antimicrobial activities to aid digestion.
Combined, these substances help protect against gastrointestinal and other infections including necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a serious gastrointestinal disease that can affect premature infants.
Additionally, when comparing breast milk to formula, human milk has been shown to reduce the risk of diarrhea, increase gastric emptyingand increase lactase activity.
Additionally, human milk influences the development of healthy normal flora such as Bifidobacterium and lactobacillus, considered as friendly bacteria" which helps maintain a healthy digestive tract.
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The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends all premature babies weighing less than 3.3 pounds receive either mothers breast milk or pasteurized donor human milk.
In a study in the United Kingdom, infants who were breastfed exclusively for six months had a decreased risk of severe or persistent diarrhea compared with infants who breastfeed exclusively for less than four months.
Breastfeeding can also prevent chronic diarrhea leading to dehydration and malnutrition.
Further, breastfeeding also lowers the risk of respiratory disease in infants.
One study conducted in the United States and Europe demonstrated the risk of respiratory infections being reduced by 20 percent in 3-to-6-month-old infants who were breastfed.
Breastfeeding is estimated to prevent almost 21,000 hospitalizations and an average of 40 deaths from lower respiratory tract infections in the first year of an infants life.
Breastfeeding can also prevent acute and recurrent middle ear infections when compared to formula fed infants.
Further, research finds it more beneficial for the infant to be fed directly from the breast rather than pumped breast milk from a bottle.
Additionally, a study in Sweden found formula-fed infants had a significantly higher risk of urinary tract infections than breastfed infants.
Extended exclusive nursing, up to seven months, appeared to be most beneficial.
Breastfed infants had greater amounts of oligosaccharides, for cell recognition and binding; the lactoferrin protein, and secretory IgA, an antibody which plays a critical role in immunity, compared to formula-fed infants.
Neonatal sepsis, a severe infection in tissues and organs, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) are also less likely if an infant is breastfed.
Neurobehavioral benefits of skin-to-skin breastfeeding include decreased infant crying, increased blood glucose levelsand greater cardiovascular stability in late preterm infants.
Additional studies conclude breastfed babies had increased salivary cortisol levels, which provide pain relieving effects.
Moreover, if an infant is exclusively breastfed for five months, they have a lower risk of infection-related mortalities than those who were only partially breastfed, or not at all.
In addition, children ages 6 to 23 months had a higher risk of infection if not breastfed compared to those who continued to breastfeed.
There also is moderate evidence in clinical studies that breastfeeding may help long-term by preventing Type 1 Diabetes, inflammatory bowel diseaseand wheezing following an upper respiratory infection with improved dental health.
An analysis showed breastfeeding may also be associated with slightly improved performance on intelligence testing.
Children who were reportedly breastfed scored an average of 3.4 points higher on tests than those who were never breastfed.
Behavioral problems in children were found to be less at age 5 if the child was breast fed as an infant rather than formula fed.
Lactation consultants, nurse practitioners and/or your pediatrician can provide education on how to successfully breastfeed infants to ensure adequate weight gain during those first few weeks of life.
Lactation consultants specialize in identifying problems such as poor latching, weight gain issues or infantile tongue tie, which could cause unsuccessful breastfeeding.
While 83 percent of U.S. infants receive breast milk at birth, only 25 percent exclusively still breastfeed at six months of age.
Overall, research from countless, respected medical groups continually suggest breast is always best for our newborns to gain significant nutritional benefits and health advantages to support their well-being, throughout their life.
For more information, go to https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Breastfeeding/Pages/default.aspx.
Margaret Nemethy, ARNP,PPCNP-BC,has been a Certified Pediatric Nurse Practitioner for more than 27 years. She presently worksout of the Pediatrics in Brevard, Melbourne office.
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