Breastfeeding is a natural and the safest way of nourishing an infant. The benefits of breastfeeding are plenty and are not limited to the baby because even the mother has some advantages from it. Parenting Circle tells you about the benefits of breastfeeding for an infant as well as a mother.
What Are The Benefits Of Breastfeeding For A Baby?
There are over a 100 benefits, including long-term and short-term, of breastfeeding for a baby.
Cognitive benefits of breastfeeding:
Breastmilk has a significant impact on the cognitive growth and brain development of an infant, and we mention a few below.
- Better IQ: Research has found that infants who consume breastmilk instead of formula tend to develop higher intelligence quotient (IQ) levels, and grow up to score better on IQ tests as they transition to school age. Also, there is a correlation between the span of breastfeeding and the IQ. Babies who have been breastfed through late infancy and into toddlerhood have higher IQ scores .
- Healthy brain size: As the baby grows so does the brain in proportion to the body. Breastfeeding ensures that the baby’s brain develops at the right pace with the correct size appropriate to that age.
- Healthier neurons: Exclusively breastfed infants display higher density of white matter tissue in the brain. White matter consists of longer neuron cells that aid in the coordination of brain parts. The white matter thus plays a vital role in determining the quality of thought process and cognitive functions. Breastfed infants can have as much as 30% more white matter than infants who are not exclusively breastfed or fed only formula.
- Speeds up brain development in preterm babies: Breastmilk accelerates the brain development in premature infants, thus ensuring they do not encounter any cognitive milestone delay. They are also less likely to face psychiatric disorders later in life.
- Reduced chances of ADHD: Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder or ADHD is a psychological condition that causes behavioral problems. The condition does not have a cure and has to be managed through medication for the rest of the life. Infants that are exclusively breastfed until six months and beyond display a lesser probability of developing ADHD. It is not known how breastmilk provides protection against ADHD, but it could be due to the milk’s general cognitive benefits.
Breastfeeding provides numerous immunological advantages by boosting a baby’s immunity against various pathogens.
- Provides protection against general illness: Breastmilk is packed with several antibodies including those for general diseases such as the common cold. For instance, if a mother suffers from common cold, she automatically transfers her immunity through breastmilk. Breastfeeding protects against bacterial infections such as bacterial meningitis and pneumonia.
- Protects against some severe viral diseases: Breastmilk protects against viruses such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and varicella-zoster, the latter causes chickenpox and shingles. Experts note that if a mother ever suffered chickenpox, she automatically passes viral immunity to her baby. It is a passive immunity, which may not guarantee complete protection, but still significantly brings down the chances of the baby contracting the illness .
- Stimulates the growth of healthy intestinal bacteria: Small intestines contain probiotic bacteria that are present in infants at birth. However, the bacterial population is low in babies. Special sugars and fats in breastmilk stimulate the multiplication of these ‘good’ bacteria. A healthy intestinal bacteria population protects against invasive bacteria such as E.coli.
- Fewer allergies and autoimmune diseases: A breastfed infant is going to have fewer instances of an allergic reaction than formula-fed babies. Immunoglobulins in the breastmilk train the baby’s immune system to become adept at differentiating a pathogen from a harmless protein. As a result, the infant becomes less prone to allergy-related conditions such as asthma. There is also a lowered risk of other autoimmune diseases such as Crohn’s disease.
- Reduces risk of SIDS, leukemia, and diabetes: Breastfed babies are less likely to experience sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), cancers such as leukemia, and type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
It is not just the brain and immune system, but also the body that benefits from the goodness of breastmilk.
- Fewer chances of developing obesity: Breastfed infants have been noted to have fewer instances of obesity in toddlerhood and even later in life. It also means it is easier for the infant to maintain a healthy weight not just for now, but also in the future.
- Helps in timely growth and development: A baby needs to attain certain developmental milestones to be considered growing normally. Breastfed infants have a better run at physical growth and tick all the milestones on time when compared to exclusively formula-fed babies.
- Better teeth development and less dental problems: There is better development of primary/deciduous teeth with fewer complications. Feeding directly from the breast reduces the chances of bottle tooth decay. Milk sugars also are not likely to harm the baby’s teeth, unlike the sugars found in formula.
Those are the major advantages a baby can derive from breastmilk. Now, let’s see what a lactating mother gets by feeding her baby.