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11 Breastfeeding benefits for toddlers, and ease for your mind

Breast milk is the best food for your baby, and the many advantages of breastfeeding mean that your baby can also benefit from your milk in many other ways.

You may have heard that the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding for at least six months, but what is the reason for this recommendation? Breastfeeding is one of the most effective methods of protecting children’s health, and if it were extended to virtually universal levels, the lives of some 820,000 children would be saved each year; a truly compelling argument.

Breastfeeding benefits for toddlers

The Health Benefits of Breastfeeding for Infants.

In addition to serving as food, breast milk also protects your baby. Breast milk is packed with living ingredients, including cytoblasts, white blood cells and beneficial bacteria, as well as other bioactive components, such as antibodies, enzymes and hormones, that help fight infection, prevent disease and contribute to normal, healthy development.

Babies who are only breastfed for the first six months of life are less likely to have diarrhea and nausea, gastroenteritis, colds and flus, ear and chest infections, and candidiasis. Compared to formula-fed children, babies who are only breastfed are half as likely to have sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS or sudden infant death).

Of course, breastfed babies also get sick sometimes, but breastfeeding during a baby’s illness offers even more benefits: “If a baby gets sick, or if it is the mother who gets sick, the protective components of her milk will tend to increase,” explains Professor Peter Hartmann of the University of Western Australia, an internationally recognized expert on breastfeeding. “A breastfed baby is likely to recover more quickly than a formula-fed baby, as the mother’s body will produce specific antibodies against any infection she may have.

And it is not only important for nutrition and immune protection:

When the baby is sick or upset, breastfeeding calms and relaxes him/her, which is an important benefit that should not be underestimated. In fact, some studies have shown that breastfeeding reduces crying and provides relief when babies get their shots.

adorable baby laying down under blanket

Benefits of Breast Milk for Premature Babies.

Feeding your preemie your milk offers the best possible protection against potentially fatal diseases, such as sepsis, chronic lung disease, and necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Prematurely breastfed babies are also more likely to leave the hospital early.

“Breastfeeding your preemie is the best thing you can do for him,” notes Professor Hartmann. “Every drop counts. In fact, health professionals see breast milk not only as nutrition, but also as a medical intervention. Learn more about how important breast milk is for premature babies.

How breastfeeding helps your baby sleep?

baby hand holding on mothers finger

You may have heard that formula-fed babies sleep longer, but that seems to be just a myth. Studies show that breastfed and formula-fed babies are equally likely to wake up to feed at night. The difference is that breastfed babies fall back to sleep sooner. The oxytocin that is produced in your baby’s body when he/she is breastfeeding makes him/her feel sleepy when he/she finishes. And there are other hormones and nucleotides in your milk that help your baby develop healthy circadian rhythms (sleep-wake patterns).

How breastfeeding affects my baby's brain development?

The first six months of your baby’s life are a very intense period for his rapidly growing brain: it almost doubles in mass during this crucial period. A study in the United States showed that young children and preschoolers who had been exclusively breastfed for at least three months had brains with 20-30 percent more white matter, which connects the different regions of the brain and transmits the signals between them, compared to those who had not been breastfed.

asleep baby between blankets

The importance of breastfeeding for the development of the baby’s brain is reflected in different studies conducted around the world. A study in the United Kingdom found that 16-year-olds who had been breastfed for six months or more as infants were more likely to have higher scores on school exams. And Brazilian researchers found that people who had been breastfed for at least a year tended to earn more money when they reached age 30.

father holding on newborn baby with one hand black background

Even when these results are adjusted for factors such as family income and the mother’s education level, it appears that children who have been exclusively breastfed are more likely to have higher IQs compared to formula-fed babies. “There are several hypotheses about this,” says Professor Hartmann. “One of them relates to the long chain fatty acids present in breast milk, such as DHA, which has a positive effect on the brain and its development.

And the latest research suggests that breastfeeding also has behavioural benefits. In a study of 10,000 children, those who breastfed for more than four months were 30% less likely to show problematic behavior at five years of age.

The lasting benefits of breastfeeding for your baby

Breastfeeding is not only beneficial for your baby during the first six months. The longer you continue to breastfeed, the more you will benefit, especially for your health.

Each feeding raises the levels of oxytocin, the “love hormone”, in both of your bodies, which promotes your bond. This can be a solid foundation for future relationships and may even help your little one cope better with stress when he or she is an adult.

Studies also show children who were breastfed as infants are less likely to get some types of cancer, such as leukemia and lymphoma, and tend to have better vision and straighter teeth than those who were fed formula. Breastfeeding also helps reduce the risk that your baby will become obese or develop type 1 or 2 diabetes as an adult.

So, if you’re wondering when the benefits of breastfeeding end, the answer is they last a lifetime. And the longer you keep breastfeeding, the greater the health benefits as well.

Other benefits of breastfeeding your baby:

baby feet surrounded by parents hands making a heart shape

Reduces infant mortality.

Children who are breastfed for the first six months of life are 14 times more likely to survive than those who are not. Starting to breastfeed from the first day of life reduces newborn mortality by 45 percent.

Protects the baby against many diseases.

Breastfeeding is the baby’s first immunization, especially in places where powdered milk is expensive and risks contamination with poor quality water.

According to Geeta Rao Gupta, UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director. “There is no other health intervention that has such great benefit for mothers and their babies and costs governments so little as breastfeeding.

Breast milk contains special antibodies that strengthen the baby’s immune system and protect against respiratory infections, flu, asthma, chronic eczema, ear infections, diarrhea, allergies and other diseases.

It prevents constipation.

It prevents constipation and is easy to digest in the newborn’s immature intestine.

Helps prevent baby’s obesity and future chronic diseases.

Facilitates bonding with the mother.

Reduces the risk of sudden infant death, whether it is exclusive or mixed breastfeeding.

Bibliography:

1 Victora CG et al. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet. 2016;387(10017):475-490.

2 Bode L et al. It’s alive: microbes and cells in human milk and their potential benefits to mother and infant. Adv Nutr. 2014;5(5):571-573.

3 Ballard O, Marrow AL. Human milk composition: nutrients and bioactive factors. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2013;60(1):49-74.

4 Ladomenou F et al. Protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding against infections during infancy: a prospective study. Arch Dis Child. 2010; 95(12):1004-1008.

5 Vennemann MM et al. Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome? Pediatrics. 2009;123(3):e406-410.

6 Hassiotou F et al. Maternal and infant infections stimulate a rapid leukocyte response in breastmilk. Clin Transl Immunology. 2013;2(4):e3.

7 Harrison D et al. Breastfeeding for procedural pain in infants beyond the neonatal period. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2016;10:CD011248.

8 Johnson TJ et al. Economic benefits and costs of human milk feedings: a strategy to reduce the risk of prematurity-related morbidities in very-low-birth-weight infants.  Adv Nutr. 2014;5(2):207-212.

9 Schanler RJ et al. Randomized trial of donor human milk versus preterm formula as substitutes for mothers’ own milk in the feeding of extremely premature infants. Pediatrics. 2005;116(2):400-406.

10 Brown A, Harries V. Infant sleep and night feeding patterns during later infancy: association with breastfeeding frequency, daytime complementary food intake, and infant weight. Breastfeed Med. 2015;10(5):246-252.

11 Sánchez CL et al. The possible role of human milk nucleotides as sleep inducers. Nutr Neurosci. 2009;12(1):2-8.

12 Dekaban AS. Changes in brain weights during the span of human life: relation of brain weights to body heights and body weights. Ann Neurol. 1978 4(4):345-356.

13 Deoni SC et al. Breastfeeding and early white matter development: A cross-sectional study. Neuroimage. 2013;82:77-86.

14 Straub N et al. Economic impact of breast-feeding-associated improvements of childhood cognitive development, based on data from the ALSPAC. Br J Nutr. 2016:1-6.

15 Victora CG et al. Association between breastfeeding and intelligence, educational attainment, and income at 30 years of age: a prospective birth cohort study from Brazil. Lancet Glob Health. 2015; 3(4):e199-205.

16 Horta BL, Victora CG. Breastfeeding and adult intelligence – Authors’ reply. Lancet Glob Health. 2015;3(9):e522.

17 Belkind-Gerson J et al. Fatty acids and neurodevelopment. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2008;47 Suppl 1:7-9

18 Heikkilä K et al. Breast feeding and child behaviour in the Millennium Cohort Study. Arch Dis Child. 2011;96(7):635-642.

19 Tharner A et al. Breastfeeding and its relation to maternal sensitivity and infant attachment. J Dev Behav Pediatr. 2012;33(5):396-404.

20 Montgomery SM et al. Breast feeding and resilience against psychosocial stress. Arch Dis Child. 2006;91(12):990-994.

21 Bener A et al. Does prolonged breastfeeding reduce the risk for childhood leukemia and lymphomas? Minerva Pediatr. 2008;60(2):155-161.

22 Singhal A et al. Infant nutrition and stereoacuity at age 4-6 y. Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85(1):152-159.

23 Peres KG et al. Effect of breastfeeding on malocclusions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatr. 2015;104(467):54-61.

24 Horta BL et al. Long-term consequences of breastfeeding on cholesterol, obesity, systolic blood pressure and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatr. 2015; 104(467):30-37

25 Lund-Blix NA et al. Infant feeding in relation to islet autoimmunity and type 1 diabetes in genetically susceptible children: the MIDIA Study. Diabetes Care. 2015;38(2):257-263.

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