Mother’s milk, as the first food, plays a special role in human nutrition. Its availability, safety and quality can determine the later health of an adult. This phenomenon is called “nutritional programming” and involves the modulation by the components of breastmilk of a woman’s metabolism and the work of the immune cardiovascular and nervous systems.
Why is breastfeeding worth it?
Breast milk is perfectly digestible and ideally suited to a baby’s nutritional needs. It provides them with essential nutrients and strengthens immunity, and its unique composition is tailored to the particular moment of the child’s life. It is a wholesome food that influences the proper psychophysical development of the child now and in the future. In addition, numerous scientific studies prove that long and exclusive breastfeeding positively affects the health of both the child and the mother.
Benefits for mothers
- Breastfeeding provides benefits for the mother. These are felt both moments after birth and many years later. Among the most important benefits of breastfeeding are the rapid contraction of the uterus after delivery, which has an impact on the course of the puerperium. The baby’s suckling at the breast triggers oxytocin, a hormone responsible, among other things, for uterine contractions. In the days following childbirth, oxytocin prevents the mother from losing blood. This decreases the likelihood of anemia due to iron deficiency. Oxytocin also has an antidepressant effect; it lessens the risk of heart attack and stroke for the mother. Study results show that each additional month of breastfeeding reduces the risk of heart disease by 4% and stroke by 3%; easier return to pre-pregnancy weight. Breastfeeding is a major energy expenditure for the mother. Energy requirements during exclusive breastfeeding increase by about 500 kcal per day. Fat tissue accumulated during pregnancy is used up after delivery to produce milk, which promotes the loss of accumulated excess;.lower risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies have shown that women who breastfed for more than six months develop this type of diabetes almost half as often; lower risk of developing many cancers. The cumulative duration of breastfeeding (the total number of months of breastfeeding for all babies born) is inversely related to the risk of cancer: including breast cancer (as little as three months of breastfeeding reduces the risk by 20%), ovarian cancer (those who breastfeed for more than 24 months have a 40% lower risk of the disease than non-breastfeeding women), and breastfeeding for two years can reduce the risk of ovarian and uterine cancer by up to half; lower risk of endometriosis. Breastfeeding for a year or more can reduce the occurrence of endometriosis by about 30%. Financial savings. Breastfeeding is more economical than giving a baby breast milk substitutes. Modified milk, accessories for its administration, consumption of electricity and water for its preparation is an expense of several thousand zloty per year! If for the first six months of life the child is fed exclusively with mother’s milk, and then its diet is expanded gradually, this will generate considerable savings.
Benefits for infants
Mother’s milk meets all the needs of the baby and provides essential nutrients for the first 6 months of life. It is the best prepared and complete food, which is important for the proper development of the child now and in the future. Many scientific studies confirm that long and exclusive breastfeeding affects the health of the baby and the mother. Breast milk as the first food has a special function in human nutrition. Its availability, safety and quality can determine the later health of an adult. Breastfeeding is one of the pillars of “nutritional programming,” which begins in fetal life. In addition to its nutritional functions, breast milk plays an important role in the proper development of the immune, nervous and cardiovascular systems. Scientific research on the composition and properties of breast milk is constantly bringing new information on the health-promoting properties of breastfeeding. Breastfed babies receive a unique nourishment that is ideally suited to their particular moment in life. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a child’s life and continuing breastfeeding for as long as desired by mother and child. Breastfeeding builds the baby’s immune system to become a strong protective shield for the body. Mother’s milk contains immunoglobulins, the protein molecules of the immune system. During the first 6 months of a baby’s life, its immune system is just beginning to form. During this time, thanks to mom’s milk, the baby is protected from microorganisms in a passive way. Between the 6th and 24th months of life, the human immune system matures, moving into active work. This is when the mother’s antibodies are a kind of “teachers” for the baby’s immune system. They “teach” to recognize and fight viruses to which the mother was previously exposed. Breast milk contains thousands of active ingredients that have non-food value, and it is impossible to obtain them through a technological process. These include, for example, α-lactalbumin, thanks to which a protein-lipid complex is formed (the so-called HAMLET) with cancer cell-destroying properties, or the unique microbiota of breast milk, which is an essential element for the formation of the baby’s intestinal microbiome. Many studies show a correlation between the length of feeding and the elimination or reduction of hospitalization of children. Natural food more effectively protects against infectious diarrhea and otitis media, respiratory and urinary infections and bacterial meningitis, some of the most common reasons for children’s visits to hospitals. Breast milk is ideally suited to a newborn’s nutritional needs, contains only species-specific proteins and is the best-absorbed food. Children fed with breast milk are less likely to develop diseases of civilization in the future. Cardiovascular diseases, anemia, allergies, type 1 and type 2 diabetes and malocclusion are statistically detected more often among children fed with formula. Breast milk is considered a so-called functional food due to its unique composition with preventive and health-promoting effects on the child’s body,. One of the most common causes of serious health complications in children born prematurely is necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). One way to prevent or treat the onset of NEC is to give the baby human milk. In the situation of premature birth, illness of the baby or mother, it is possible to give milk from another woman. This is handled by breast milk banks. These are specialized laboratories that obtain milk from honorary donors, test it for microbiology, subject it to the process of pasteurization, and store it in appropriate conditions to ensure safe administration to needy children. Milk banks are an integral part of the mother and child care system. This is in line with the indications of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the joint WHO and UNICEF Resolution that “Breast milk from a professional milk bank is the second food of choice for use in newborns and infants after the mother’s own milk” (WHO & UNICEF Join Statement, 1980).