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The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) “strongly recommends” that women breastfeed their infants exclusively for the first 6 months of life. After the introduction of solid food, continuing breastfeeding is recommended to at least the 12th month. The benefits to both the mother and the infant are well researched, and more benefits are being discovered through evolving research.
Breastmilk is the “perfect food” for your baby. The very first breast milk you produce, called colostrum, has a high nutrient content and antibodies designed to protect your baby in the first days of life. The colostrum is eventually replaced by what is called mature milk, and while it is thinner and not as nutrient dense, it is designed to grow with your baby. This mature milk contains the right combination of proteins, fats and carbohydrates your growing infant needs at all times. Breastmilk also contains certain proteins that provide protection against infection and include lactoferrin, secretory IgA, and lysozyme. Secretory IgA in particular seems to give protection against any viruses and bacteria that the whole family, not just the mother, is exposed to. Leukocytes, another infection fighter, are also passed to the child with breastmilk.
The antibodies that nursing moms pass to their infants have been shown to provide some protection against conditions such as ear infections, respiratory infections and even meningitis. These antibodies may also protect children from developing allergies, asthma, diabetes, obesity and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
This complex and natural combination of the nutrients, antibodies and proteins are only found in human breastmilk. The manufacturing of formula comes as close as possible to this human combination, but there are likely a number of things we haven’t discovered as of yet. Even with the discovery of these substances, we may not be able to reproduce or add these to formula.
Breastfeeding can help moms too! Research is showing that moms who breastfeed have a lower risk of Type 2 diabetes, ovarian cancer, breast cancer, post partum depression and possibly osteoporosis. The comforts of the bonding time relax and benefit both mom and baby. These benefits should encourage new moms to try breastfeeding their infants if possible.
Breastfeeding Women’s Health.gov
American Pregnancy Association
Breastfeeding NICHD (National Institute Child Health & Human Development)