Choosing whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed your newborn baby is a personal decision. In fact, it is one of the first important decisions that a new mother needs to make.
However, the World Health Organization as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend breast milk as the best thing you can give to your child.
According to the AAP, exclusive nursing is essential during the first 6 months of life and has wide-reaching and long-lasting effects on your baby’s health and development.
Not just babies, mothers also benefit from breastfeeding their newborns.
Here are the top 10 benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies.
1. Supports Baby’s Growth and Development
Breast milk has the perfect combination of proteins, fats, vitamins and carbohydrates that help your baby grow and develop properly. Plus, the leukocytes as well as antibodies, enzymes and hormones present in breast milk make it the ideal food for newborns.
The proteins in breast milk are easily digested and have great infection-protection properties.
The calcium and iron in breast milk, which are needed for healthy bone development, are also more easily absorbed. Plus, breast milk contains healthy fats that are necessary for brain, retina and nervous system development.
Lactose, the primary carbohydrate found in breast milk, improves the intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium and other minerals in infants.
2. Boosts Immune System
Food allergies, eczema and asthma are less common in babies who are breastfed for at least four months. This is mainly due to colostrum or first milk which is produced within the first few days after giving birth.
It is a low-fat, high-protein breast milk that has a positive influence on your newborn’s immune responses and lymphoid tissue. This makes babies more resilient to germs, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.
Additionally, breastfeeding increases the benefits of vaccination.
A 2003 study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that breastfeeding helps protect against future development of allergic diseases, but possibly less so in countries with an untoward maternal fat intake.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association in 2006 found that breastfeeding provides immune protection and helps prevent various diseases in the perinatal period.
A recent 2015 study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy reports that breast milk contains a variety of molecules that can influence immune responses in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue of a neonate.
3. Greater IQ
It has been found that breastfed babies may have the advantage of a higher IQ over formula-fed babies.
The cognitive benefits are linked to the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid. Specific proteins in breast milk also promote brain development.
A 2007 study published in the Journal on Developmental Disabilities reports that feeding with breast milk over infant formulate provides the infant with a measurable advantage on some, but not all, scales of cognitive development.
A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2008 reports that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding improves children’s cognitive development.
Another 2013 study published in NeuroImage reports that infant breastfeeding is linked to improved developmental growth in late maturing white matter association regions. At the same time, extended breastfeeding duration is associated with improved white matter structure and cognitive performance.
4. Lowers SIDS Risk
Nursing your baby for at least six months may help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year old for which a cause cannot be found at autopsy.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics reports that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS by more than 50 percent at all ages throughout infancy. The study strongly recommends breastfeeding through 6 months of age to reduce SIDS risk.
Breastfed infants awaken more easily from sleep, which in turn protects against SIDS. In addition, breastfeeding aids in building the immune system that protects an infant from infections.
Along with breastfeeding, make sure to keep the crib or bassinet free from toys and extra clothes.
5. Reduces Cancer Risk
Breastfeeding is encouraged to reduce the risk of cancer in children as well as nursing mothers.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health found that breastfeeding was inversely associated with pediatric cancer, and the protection increased with the duration of full breastfeeding.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Human Lactation found high levels of the cancer-fighting TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL) in human milk provides better protection against illnesses like lymphoblastic leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease.
A recent 2015 study published in Acta Paediatrica found that breastfeeding for more than 12 months was associated with a reduced risk for mothers of developing breast and ovarian carcinoma by 26 percent and 37 percent, respectively.
6. Better Eyesight
Breastfeeding your baby even reduces the chance that your child will need to wear glasses later.
According to a 2007 study by researchers from the Institute of Child Health in London, children who were breastfed as infants have better eyesight than those who were formula-fed.
The researchers studied 262 children between the ages of 4 and 6. Of these children, 78 had been breastfed and 184 had been given formula milk. Breastfed children had greater stereoscopic (three-dimensional) vision.
A higher concentration of the fatty acid DHA in breast milk is the reason behind better eyesight. DHA is one of the prime structural components of the retina of the eye.
Plus, breast milk is good for combating eye infections. The natural antibiotic qualities in it help fight infection.