The Importance of Breastfeeding – From the Baby to Society The Importance of Breastfeeding
The newborn and young baby
Breastfeeding is vitally important for the young baby. It is how babies were designed, through millennia of evolution, to be fed, and as such is perfectly tailored to their needs. It provides perfect nutrition, presenting all the necessary components, and delivering them in the most bio-available way. It provides antibodies, protection from disease that helps to support the baby’s immature immune system. Other physical benefits are clear, though the mechanisms are not yet fully understood, for example the much lower rate of SIDS among breastfed, as opposed to artificially-fed, children. The influence of breastmilk on a child’s health is long-term – children breastfed even for just the first few months have much lower rates of diabetes, obesity, and some forms of cancer, even years later and on into adulthood. Psychologically and emotionally, breastfeeding can be the basis for a strong, secure bond between mother and baby. This bonding provides the infant with a sense of security, reassurance, and comfort. Although secure bonding is not absolutely dependent upon breastfeeding, the act of breastfeeding does release certain hormones in both mother and baby (specifically, oxytocin), which are often referred to as the ‘love hormone’ and can help induce feelings of calm, peace, and affection. Many studies have researched the link between a secure mother-child bond, and the child’s emotional development later in life. It seems that such a secure bond is the foundation on which all relationships are based, so breastfeeding can be extrapolated to be an important part of learning social skills. Other social factors may be a bit less clear from the infant’s point of view, but one interesting interpretation is provided by Dr. Brian Palmer, in his presentation ‘The Importance of Breastfeeding as it Relates to Total Health’[i]. The graphic demonstrations of how artificial teats can deform oral and facial characteristics are shocking, and have clear implications for health, but also, I think, have a social aspect. In a society that puts so much emphasis on physical appearance, sucking on a breast will produce more natural facial characteristics, whereas sucking on artificial teats often leads to maloclusions, gapped teeth, and unsightly overbites. Environmentally, artificially fed infants are at a greater risk of being exposed to environmental contaminants. These can come in the constituents of the artificial milk, the packaging of same, the water used to make up feeds, or leaching from plastic bottles and teats. Exclusive breastfeeding protects from all of these. Economic factors for the baby relate closely to health issues, particularly at the lower end of the socio-economic scale. Being born into poverty – in any nation, no matter how developed – puts you at a much greater risk for all sorts of health problems. Put simply, if you’re poor you’re more likely to be unhealthy. But breastfeeding can effectively undo a lot of this injustice, with its immense positive impact on early years health. Basically, breastfeeding lifts a poor baby out of poverty in the first, vital months, giving it a flying start that will have a positive health impact for years, overcoming many of the negatives due to socio-economic status in an unjust society.[ii] The Mother
Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of some forms of cancer than mothers who do not, and the risk is reduced proportionally in relation to the total length of lactation throughout a mother’s life. Breastfeeding mothers also have better bone density and a lower risk of osteoporosis later in life, and may lose weight more quickly in the post-partum period. Breastfeeding exclusively for at least six months also means a woman is unlikely to ovulate and menstruate in that time, and unlikely to conceive. Reducing the number of menstrual cycles can reduce the risk of anemia,...
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