As future dietitians and healthcare professionals, many of us know breast-feeding is beneficial — but will we be able to explain to patients why? For some mothers, making the decision to breast-feed can be a difficult one. As dietitians, it will be our job to educate patients and help them feel more comfortable making the choice. Breast-feeding is one of the most effective ways to ensure a baby’s health and survival, and here is some of the science behind the claim:
Colostrum. This is the first milk that a mother’s body produces after birth. Its low-fat content makes it easily digestible for the infant — much easier than formula. Colostrum has a mild laxative effect on the baby, aiding in the excretion of excess bilirubin and helping to prevent jaundice. It is rich in nutrients and helps the newborn’s digestive system develop and function properly. Colostrum also contains antibodies that help protect the baby from infections, and high concentrations of leukocytes that work to destroy any disease-causing bacteria.
Breast milk is unique because it changes composition as the baby grows. Colostrum gradually changes to mature milk during the first two weeks after birth. This mature milk has just the right amount of macronutrients and water to help the baby continue to develop.
Research also shows that breast-fed babies have a lower risk of asthma, childhood obesity, ear infections, diarrhea and vomiting, lower respiratory infections, necrotizing enterocolitis and Type 2 diabetes. A large study by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences showed that children who are breast-fed have a 20 percent lower risk of mortality between the ages of 28 days and 1 year than children who weren’t breast-fed, with longer breast-feeding associated with lower risk.
Not only does breast-feeding benefit the baby, it also offers health benefits for mothers. Breast-feeding leads to lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and postpartum depression.
Now that we have the facts, it’s time to advocate. Virtually all mothers can breast-feed, provided they have accurate information and support from their family and healthcare team.