The Benefits of Breastfeeding
While breastfeeding may not seem the right choice for every parent, it is the best choice for every baby. ~Amy Spangler @
A child’s risk of death in the first four weeks of life is nearly 15 times greater than any other time before his or her first birthday. The first day of life is the most vital for infants; the first minutes, the first hour, and the pivotal first day. Within the first few days of birth the mother begins to produce colostrum, a highly nutritious substance full of antibodies and immune system boosting cells. Colostrum helps an infant’s intestine to mature and fights against infections and bacteria, while breastfeeding helps to prevent both hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) and low body temperature in newborns. Even after colostrum production changes to mature milk within the first two weeks, it still retains disease-fighting properties containing both antibodies and pathogens that an infant is likely to be exposed to.
Breastfeeding increases resistance to diseases including respiratory tract infections, ear infections, bacterial meningitis, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and infant diarrhea. Breastfeeding also protects against chronic diseases. The World Health Organization recommends that a mother should begin breastfeeding within the hour of giving birth. “The infant immune system matures during the first year, and is more mature at age two, but the immune system does not reach full maturity until the child is around six years old.” Breast milk has been found to contain 90 different oligosaccharides (special sugars) forming 900 different chemical structures that each block infection in different ways. This mix also varies from woman to woman and can include antibodies that protect the child against any pathogens the mother has been recently exposed to.
It’s estimated that exclusively breastfeeding could save 220,000 infants lives every year. 830,000 babies could be saved if women breastfed in the first hour of life, because an infant given breast milk within an hour of birth is up to three times more likely to survive than one breastfed a day later. Even with the scientific evidence behind the use of breast milk two of three babies worldwide are not exclusively breastfed. Why do so many women around the world not breastfeed their children? Save the Children points to three answers: cultural barriers that inhibit breastfeeding, a shortage of health care workers to teach proper breastfeeding skills, and marketing by manufactures that persuades new mothers to use formula instead of milk. In fact, the WHO even urges continued breastfeeding for mothers who are HIV Positive, because the benefits of breast milk are that crucial for infants.