Benefits of Breastfeeding

In this article, I will share the latest research about breastfeeding (or lactation). I will only use research that is strong and accepted in all medical communities. I will use resources only from:

1. The Lancet, of the world's oldest and most trusted journals

2. Cochrane review: A globally trusted source for doctors and policymakers.

3. The World Health Organization which sets global guidelines

4. American Academy of Pediatrics The official American Academy of Pediatrics. A resource for pediatricians.

 

Why are we making this article?

More than 60% of women in the Middle East don't breastfeed. Why does this matter? (This also applies in the U.S and the U.K (only 1% breastfeed in the U.K)

"Breastfeeding reduces infant morbidity and mortality, increases Intelligence Quotient (IQ) score, improves school achievement, and boosts adult earnings" The Lancet

 

The use of breastmilk substitutes weakens infants’ immune systems, and impairs their cognitive development, behaviour, and appetite regulation, and it increases women’s risk of developing breast cancer, and probably also ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes - Cochrane review

"If breastfeeding did not already exist, someone who invented it today would deserve a dual Nobel Prize in medicine and economics. For while “breast is best” for lifelong health, it is also excellent economics. Breastfeeding is a child's first inoculation against death, disease, and poverty, but also their most enduring investment in physical, cognitive, and social capacity.The Lancet

Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life. 

Breastfed children perform better on intelligence tests, are less likely to be overweight or obese and less prone to diabetes later in life. Women who breastfeed also have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. The World Health Organization

Let's talk about evidence.

Decreased infections, hospital admissions, and death

The source for the following statistics. Read here.

1. About half of all diarrhoea episodes and a third of respiratory infections would be avoided by breastfeeding.

2. Breastfeeding could prevent 72% of admissions for diarrhoea and 57% of those for respiratory infections.

3. Exclusively breastfed infants having only 12% of the risk of death compared with those who were not breastfed in Low to Middle Income countries.

4. Ever breastfeeding was associated with a 36% reduction in sudden infant deaths in high income countries

5. Breastfeeding could prevent 72% of admissions for diarrhoea and 57% of those for respiratory infections.

 

Oral protection

Breastfeeding was associated with a 68% reduction  in malocclusions. Malocclusions is the imperfect positioning of the teeth when the jaws are closed.

The source for the above statistics. Read here.

 

Breastfeeding reduces chances of obesity and diabetes

Research mostly from high income countries shows Longer periods of breastfeeding were associated with a 26% reduction in the odds of overweight or obesity. The effect was consistent across income classifications.

For the incidence of type 2 diabetes, the pooled results showed 24% reduced chance of Type 2 diabetes 

The source for the above statistics. Read here.

Breastfeeding and IQ

Breastfeeding was consistently associated with higher performance in intelligence tests in children and adolescents, with a pooled increase of 3·4 intelligence quotient (IQ) points based on the findings of 16 observational studies that controlled for several confounding factors including home stimulation.

A large randomized trial reported an increase of more than 7 IQ points at 6·5 years of age, and a similar effect was reported in a non-randomised trial in which preterm infants were fed formula or breastmilk. Positive associations with attained schooling were reported from the UK, New Zealand, and Brazil.  A study in Brazil including 30 years of follow-up suggested an effect of breastfeeding on intelligence, attained schooling, and adult earnings, with 72% of the effect of breastfeeding on income explained by the increase in IQ.

The source for the above statistics. Read here.

The large, randomized Promotion of Breastfeeding Intervention Trial provided evidence that adjusted outcomes of intelligence scores and teacher’s ratings are significantly greater in breastfed infants.In addition, higher intelligence scores are noted in infants who exclusively breastfed for 3 months or longer, and higher teacher ratings were observed if exclusive breastfeeding was practiced for 3 months or longer. Significantly positive effects of human milk feeding on long-term neurodevelopment are observed in preterm infants, the population more at risk for these adverse neurodevelopmental outcomes. 

American Academy of Pediatrics

 

Breastfeeding protects from childhood leukemia

A review of 18 studies suggested that breastfeeding is associated with a 19% reduction (95% CI 11–27) in the incidence of childhood leukaemia.

The source for the above statistics. Read here.

 

Effects on the mother

The meta-analysis of 41 studies on breastfeeding and ovarian cancer shows a 30% reduction associated with longer periods of breastfeeding.

The source for the above statistics. Read here.

Interested to know how this probably happens?

The most likely explanation through the research is that breastfeeding due to it's components impacts the baby's microbiome (or gut bacteria) which we now know impacts anxiety, intelligence, focus, immunity, obesity, metabolism and so much more!

"These events might be mediated directly or through effects on the infant microbiome. The ability of the microbiome to regulate host responses in infancy depends on individual bacterial species, which modulate T-cell polarisation and immune regulation, metabolic responses, adipogenesis, and possibly even brain development and cognitive functioning.56,57 Abnormal colonisation patterns have a deleterious long-term effect on immune and metabolic homoeostasis. It is therefore remarkable that a mother’s breastmilk transmits elements of her own microbiome and immune responses, and also provides specific prebiotics to support growth of beneficial bacteria.

 Breastfed infants maintain persistent microbial differences, independent of delivery mode,59,60 owing to the effects of human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs). Human milk contains a much wider variety of sugars than other mammalian milks: up to 8% of its calorific value is provided in the form of indigestible HMOs, which function as prebiotics to support growth of specific bacteria

 Human breastmilk is therefore not only a perfectly adapted nutritional supply for the infant, but probably the most specific personalised medicine that he or she is likely to receive, given at a time when gene expression is being fine-tuned for life. This is an opportunity for health imprinting that should not be missed."

The source for the above statistics. Read here.

Conclusion

Findings from epidemiology and biology studies substantiate the fact that the decision to not breastfeed a child has major long-term effects on the health, nutrition, and development of the child and on women’s health. Possibly, no other health behaviour can affect such varied outcomes in the two individuals who are involved: the mother and the child. Findings from immunology, epigenetic, microbiome, and stem-cell studies done over the past two decades that elucidate potential mechanisms through which breastfeeding can improve outcomes will probably be followed by other, even more exciting dis- coveries on the exquisite personalised medicine provided by human milk.

 

  • The deaths of 823 000 children and 20 000 mothers each year could be averted through universal breastfeeding, along with economic savings of US$300 billion.
  • We estimated that present rates of breastfeeding prevent almost 20000 annual deaths from breast cancer, and an additional 20 000 are preventable by scaling up breastfeeding practices
  • Breastfeeding prevents half of deaths caused by infections in children aged 6–23 months.
  • Breast cancer is reduced by lifetime duration of breastfeeding in women, with a 6% reduction for every 12 months.

     

The source for the above statistics. Read here.

 

In previous years, there wasn't enough scientific evidence that breastfeeding has substantial short and long term health benefits for babies and mothers. This is NO LONGER THE CASE. Never before in the history of science has so much been known about the complex importance of breastfeeding for both mothers and children.

 

Mirna Sabbagh, an adult and child dietitian, nutritionist, and lactation consultant. She also has several digital courses: Pregnancy Nutrition Course, breastfeeding course,  starting solids 6-12 months courseand also child nutrition for all children including picky eaters, that you can sign up for from the comfort of your home.

The courses are pre-recorded. As soon as you make the course purchase, you will receive a link to watch the course from your phone or laptop.

You can also e-mail Mirna for questions on info@mirnaelsabbagh.com

Mirna is no longer doing consultations. Her online courses and webinars cover 95% of parents common concerns. 

 

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