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     Volume 6 Issue 10 | March 16, 2007 |

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Are Breastfed Babies Healthier

Syeda Shamin Mortada

Aiman is one year now; with his newly found walking skills and independence, he will hardly sit in one place, except when he is sleepy or hungry, and in both cases the child comes clamouring to the one person in the world he knows can give him unprecedented love and affection -- his mother. Sara still breast feeds her baby boy, he has managed to outgrow his mommy's lap, but Sara knows that emotionally he still needs her just as much.

Shelly on the other hand, breast fed her daughter for only a few days, she couldn't keep up with the demand of feeding her daughter so often and gradually shifted her diet towards powdered milk. Lamisa who is half a year old now, is extremely cute, chubby and cuddly. “Though my baby got sick quite a few times since birth, the doctor said there is nothing to worry about, and in any case she weighs much more than the other kids her age. I am very happy!” says Shelly.

So, which of these two kids is likely to be healthier during infancy or even when they grow up? Which one of the proud moms recovered faster from the 40-day postpartum period, and is expected to have better health? Well, research and science says, the breastfed baby and his mother are far better off!

During the last last two decades, the significance of breast-feeding has been recognised as one of the most valuable medical contributors to infant health. New-born babies have very immature immune systems and little ability to fight illness-causing germs. Antibodies are made by the mother's immune system and are passed to the baby through breast milk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding is “the ideal method of feeding and nurturing infants." Mother's milk contains a balance of nutrients that fulfills the infant's requirement for brain development, growth and a healthy immune system. Human milk also contains immunologic agents and other compounds that act against viruses, bacteria and parasites. Since an infant's immune system is not fully developed until age two, human milk provides a distinct advantage over formula. On the other hand, formulas try to imitate the ingredients in human milk; but the truth is the exact composition of breast milk cannot be duplicated. Human milk contains living cells, hormones, active enzymes and immunoglobulin that cannot be replicated in infant formulas. It also has carbohydrates, easily digestible proteins and fat, plus antibodies that can protect the baby from infection. Therefore, performance of infant formulas is measured by the infant's growth, absorption of nutrients, and gastrointestinal tolerance.

Studies further suggest that as breast milk provides protection against germs that a baby or mother may carry, it is found that breastfed babies have lower rates of several chronic childhood diseases, including respiratory infections and ear infections, as well as symptoms such as diarrhoea or tooth decay. It is also seen that breast-fed infants gain less weight and tend to be leaner at one year of age than formula-fed infants. Flab-fighting starts at birth: by breastfeeding. According to Professor Tim Cole, a child growth specialist from London's Institute of Child Health, "Breast-fed babies are less likely to be fat later in life than bottle-fed babies." This is an early indicator which may later influence the growth patterns, resulting in fewer overweight and obese children. This could be because a breastfed baby is more likely to learn how to eat according to appetite: "Breastfed babies control the flow of milk themselves," says Cole, "while bottle-fed ones take what they are given." Intriguing developments indicate that breast milk may even have another role in the battle against cancer, i.e. breast-feeding may reduce the risk of childhood cancer.

According to Shahara Banu Kona, Senior Breast Feeding Councilor, ICDDR,B, breast fed babies are usually more intelligent and have a higher IQ level than the bottlefed ones. There are long-term benefits of breastfeeding a child, the possibility of having diabetes and heart diseases amongst those who have been breastfed is less. One important thing which should be kept in mind whilst feeding one's child is the “position attachment”, i.e. the position of the mother and child should be accurate. The councilor says, “Exclusively breast feed your baby till the middle of the first year; even water need not be given to the child. Start complementary food after six months and continue breastfeeding till the child is minimum two years.” She adds, “A confident mother with a positive attitude and a helpful environment can easily breastfeed her little one.”

And if you perceive the whole thing from the budget standpoint, breast milk unlike powdered milk is absolutely free. It will save you a lot of money! It's not just that you won't have to buy formulas, there will be fewer visits to the doctor and if you happen to be a working mom, you won't have to take too many days off for the sake of your kid. Moreover, it is always on hand, always the right temperature and consistency; and there is no need to mix and prepare or sterilise bottles.

Yet, many women still refuse to breastfeed their babies. Some mothers fail to understand the benefits of breastfeeding, maybe because of lack of education, knowledge or support. Some think that the practice is painful and inconvenient while some believe that they are not making enough milk. There are many who feel uncomfortable to feed outside the home. Some refrain from breastfeeding simply because they have to return to full time work or think that it will hinder their independence. Obviously we need to educate the society on the benefits of breast feeding. A solid support system is necessary to train and make the people aware about the benefits of breastfeeding. With careful planning and discussion both working and stay home moms can easily breastfeed their child. Women can express their milk when they are going to be away from the baby. Kona says, “Human milk can be kept for six to eight hours at room temperature and for 24 hours in the refrigerator.”

Moreover, you would surely want to breastfeed when you learn that studies have consistently shown that rates of asthma, childhood cancers, obesity, breast cancer, uterine and ovarian cancer in women, and infant mortality all decrease the longer a child breastfeeds. In addition, breastfeeding fosters confidence and independence in toddlers and older children, and creates strong bonds between a mother and her child.

However, rare cases may prevent a mother from breastfeeding her baby. Women who test positive for HIV and AIDS or who have human T-cell leukemia virus type 1 (HTLV-1) should not breastfeed. There may be certain other conditions where breastfeeding may not be advisable or should be temporarily stopped. Mothers should always ask their physicians before continuing or taking new medications while nursing.

Other than these exceptional factors, there are numerous wonderful reasons for breastfeeding, both from the mother's and the baby's point of view. Surely, many of these relate to satisfying the emotional needs of both. Breast feeding is an empowered act, after all the single most important thing you could do to ensure your angel's health is by breast feeding.


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