The UK has one of the lowest breastfeeding rates in the world, with only 1 in 3 babies being breastfed at 6 months old. However, studies proving the benefits of breast milk are on the rise, so for the young mothers who are still undecided, here are 5 health benefits for both mother and baby.
1) Good for the immune system
Maternal milk is made up of water, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, salts and trace minerals -the essential dietary nutrients for a baby in their first 6 months of life. What’s more, the antibodies promote immune defenses and reduce risk of illness.
Several studies have shown that the risk of ear infections, allergies, diarrhea and gastro-enteritis is lower in babies who are breastfed. Breast milk thus has a powerful protective effect on the immune system, and it may have a protective effect against inflammatory reactions.
2) Breastfeeding could prevent asthma
Children who are carriers of the gene predisposing them to asthma could be better protected from this respiratory condition if they are breastfed. Researchers cannot yet explain the fact that breast milk affects the expression of this gene, but it is hoped that future studies will shed some light on the subject.
3) Could breastfed babies have higher IQs?
According to a study published in March 2015 in The Lancet, there could be a link between intelligence and breast milk. During this study, adults who had been breastfed for their first few months of life had an average of 3 more IQ points than sample of people who had not been breastfed.
In order to explain this, the researchers hypothesised that women who breastfed tended to stay at home for longer and thus spend more time with their babies, which could promote alertness. In this case, the link may not be with breastfeeding but with the strong bond with the parent and the advanced alertness that follows –or both!
4) You can eat whatever you want
After having deprived yourself of cheese and cured meats or even prawns for 9 months, you are now free to eat what you want! Obviously it is best to avoid drinking alcohol and smoking, but at least you can enjoy a few more of life’s little pleasures. However, be careful not to eat overly fatty, salty or sugary foods, in order to avoid rapid weight gain.
An unbalanced diet will have an impact on the quality of the breast milk. But if you follow a diet that is very low in calories, you will produce less breast milk.
Be careful with medications, and always check beforehand with your doctor whether you are allowed to take any type of medication.
5) Breastfeeding can help prevent breast cancer
Although breastfeeding can sometimes be painful, especially during the first few weeks, it could help protect you from breast cancer.
20,000 deaths caused by breast cancer worldwide could be avoided if more mothers breastfed. Breastfeeding during the first 12 months reduces breast cancer in mothers by 4.3%.
According to the same study as produced these figures, breastfeeding also protects against ovarian cancer if it is practiced over long periods. Long periods of amenorrhea (not having periods), in the case of breastfeeding, is another known factor for reducing the risk of these two types of cancer.
In the case of painful breasts or nipples after one or two weeks, consult a doctor to ensure there are no anomalies and to ensure you are using the best technique.