Breastfeeding provides very good nutrition for the baby. There is world wide evidence that good nutrition in the early years of life plays an important role not only affecting health but also in improving the intellectual and social development of a child.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) breastfeeding is beneficial both to the mother and the child. These two health organizations recommend the exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life to attain optimal health, growth and development of a child. After six months, complementary foods should be introduced with supplementation of breast milk up to two years of age.
Some properties of breast milk have been proven to benefit brain development according to studies from NICHD research such as specific fatty acids DHA and AA. Aside from these studies, other components of breast milk have been proven to be beneficial because breast milk has the right amount of sugar, protein and water that are essential for growth and development. The composition of breast milk has also been proven to help mothers lose weight after breast feeding.
The U.S. Agency for Health Care Research and Quality as well as WHO include the following breast feeding benefits to infants:
• Improvement of Immune System - During breast feeding, anti-bodies are passed from the mother's milk to the baby therefore causing less susceptibility to illnesses and infections.
• Less susceptibility to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) - Studies from the University of Munster found out that the risk of SIDS is reduced when infants are breastfed compared to those who are not.
• Higher Intellectual Development - Many studies from the different health sectors and researches proved that breastfeeding contributes to a child's higher intellect later in life compared to those who have not experienced breast feeding. Studies from the World Health Organization, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health and other individual and team studies found a connection between intelligence and breastfeeding. A study conducted by Horwood, Darlow and Mogridge (2001) consisting of 280 low birth weight children who are not breastfed and breastfed children all of which are from seven to eight years old were compared and the results of the study showed that the IQ of the breastfed children are higher than those who were not breastfed.
• Less Susceptibility to Diseases and Conditions - less risk from diabetes, childhood obesity, overweight, less inclination to allergic reactions and diseases.
• Other on-going studies have still yet to be proven such as less risk for Celiac Disease, Cardiovascular Diseases, depression and stress.
Aside from the benefits infants can receive through breastfeeding, breastfeeding mothers can also benefit from this activity. They include:
• Stronger Bonding between Mother and Child - Breastfeeding activity draws both the mother and child even closer to each other.
• Release of Hormones - Hormones that are released when a mother is breastfeeding enables the mother to relax. These hormones are specifically known as oxytocin and prolactin. Oxytocin helps the uterus of the mother to contract therefore reducing bleeding from the birth process. Prolactin on the other hand helps the mother to produce more milk for lactation.
• Weight Loss - there are studies that claim weight loss in breastfeeding mothers, although according to the U.S. Agency for Health Care Research this effect is still unclear.
• Less susceptibility to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, endometrial cancer, coronary heart disease, metabolic syndrome, postpartum bleeding and rheumatoid arthritis. Due to the proven benefits of breastfeeding, all major organizations around the world endorse breastfeeding.
American Academy of Pediatrics published following: "Extensive research using improved epidemiologic methods and modern laboratory techniques documents diverse and compelling advantages for infants, mothers, families, and society from breastfeeding and use of human milk for infant feeding. These advantages include health, nutritional, immunologic, developmental, psychologic, social, economic, and environmental benefits."