By Mary Letourneau, RN, BSN, IBCLC, Lactation Consultant, CVMC Women and Children's
You probably have heard about some of the benefits of breastfeeding – it’s cheaper than formula, helps mom lose weight, fewer ear infections, allergies and colds for baby. But there’s so much more, and we are learning everyday about the amazing qualities of breastmilk.
- Antibacterial medicine: Approximately 80 percent of the cells in breastmilk are cells that kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. A mother produces specific antibodies to whatever disease is present in her environment, then she custom-makes her milk to fight diseases her baby is exposed to.
- Cancer: Breastfeeding reduces a woman’s risk of ovarian cancer by about one-third. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the less likely she is to get endometrial cancer. If a woman never were to have breastfed she is at an increased risk of developing premenopausal breast cancer. Breastfed babies have a 20 percent to 30 percent less chance of getting childhood leukemia, and are less likely to develop Hodgkin’s lymphoma. So-called HAMLET (human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor) cells that have been found in breastmilk actually seek out and destroy tumor cells.
- Braces: Babies who drink from the breast exert about 60 times more energy than those that drink from the bottle. All that exercise contributes to strong, well-formed jaws and straight healthy teeth. The longer the duration of nursing, the less likely children are to need braces, and the fewer dental cavities they will develop.
- Palate: Breastmilk is flavored from the variety foods that mom eats. Moms who eat garlic have garlic-flavored breastmilk. In this way, babies learn to prefer the flavors of their particular culture’s food right from birth. One study showed that babies stayed at the breast longer and consumed more milk after their mothers ate garlic! When breastfed, babies are exposed to many flavors and tend to be less fussy eaters when it’s time to start solids at around six months. This effect lasts a lifetime.
- Smarts: Breastmilk enhances brain and cognitive development. Breastfed babies have higher IQs and greater academic achievement. In the first year of life, breastfed infants have better hand-eye coordination and are able to see and reach for objects sooner.
- Safety: Breastmilk has never been recalled due to manufacturing problems, contains no genetically modified materials and no synthetic growth hormones. Fresh breastmilk is never contaminated with bacteria. In fact, it has antibacterial properties, and there is no need to worry about adding contaminated water to breastmilk.
Cow’s milk is intended for baby cows and human milk is perfectly designed for human babies. In fact, your breastmilk is designed specifically for your baby, and it changes daily to meet your baby’s specific nutritional and immunological needs.
Burby, Leslie. “101 Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child.” ProMom Inc. April 2005
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Mennella, Julie A. “Development of Food Preferences: Lessons Learned from Longitudinal and Experimental Studies.” Food quality and preference. 2006; 17.7-8: 635–637.
Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. Maternal diet alters the sensory qualities of human milk and the nursling’s behavior. Pediatrics. 1991; 88:737–744.
Steube, Alison. The Risks of Not Breastfeeding for Mothers and Infants. Reviews in Obstetrics and Gynecology. 2009 Fall; 2(4): 222-231.
Mary Letourneau, RN, BSN, IBCLC, is lactation consultant at the Center for Breastfeeding: UVMHN – Central Vermont Medical Center. To learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding, contact Mary at Mary.Letourneau@cvmc.org or drop in at Bosom Buddies – Breastfeeding Celebration Group, held the first Monday of every month at CVMC.