Breastfeeding: The Perfect Gift for Baby, Mother & Our World
by Mary Ann Whitesell

Mary Ann Whitesell, mother of two, is a La Leche Leader in Riverside. If you would like more information about the benefits of breastfeeding or about the art of breastfeeding itself, contact your local La Leche League Leader or call 1-800-LA LECHE.

As the holidays approach, our thoughts turn to giving what to give, to whom, and how much can I afford? The art of breastfeeding is a priceless gift to baby, mother, and our world. Most people know that “breast milk is best,” but exactly why is it the best? The following is a partial list of “gifts” that human milk offers:
Health Benefits: Breastfed babies are less likely to contract ear infections and other diseases like pneumonia and meningitis and less likely to become ill with gastrointestinal infections and diarrhea. Babies who are breastfed are at lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.

Another wonder of mother’s milk is its ability to offer protection from day-to-day exposure to contagious illnesses. Let’s say a mother comes down with flu-like symptoms: body aches, congestion, etc. By the time she is aware of any symptoms, her baby may also have been exposed to the illness. The mother’s immune system fights the illness with immune properties that pass into her milk. In this way, the baby receives protection from the specific illness to which he may have been exposed. If a mother were to stop Breastfeeding when she became ill, the baby would lose out on that protection. During cold and flu season, oftentimes a breastfed baby is the only one in the family to remain free of symptoms. If the baby does show symptoms, they are usually less severe and pass more quickly than in other family members. This protection continues for as long as a baby continues to nurse, although the greatest protection occurs when the baby is exclusively breastfeeding.

Long-term health benefits of breastfeeding are being discovered as the first generations of artificially-fed infants are now in their fifties and sixties. Breastfeeding has been found to slow he development of a digestive disorder known as celiac disease, and has also been shown to protect against Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in adulthood. Insulin-dependent diabetes occurs less in people who were breastfed. Also, breastfeeding has been shown to protect against subsequent obesity, at least through adolescence.

Human milk for human babies: Mother’s milk was designed specifically for a human baby, therefore, it provides all the right nutrients in the right amounts. The protein in breastmilk is much easier for a baby to digest since it forms a smaller curd in the stomach. The amino acids in human milk are in all the right proportions. This is important for the development of the brain and nervous system. A recent study showed that premature babies who were fed their own mother’s milk in the early weeks of life had a significantly higher IQ at age 7 ½ and 8 years than children who were artificially fed.

Benefits to mother:Breastfeeding provides protection against breast cancer in the mother. One study showed that the risk of breast cancer decreased as the number of months spent lactating increased. Another study showed that women who had breastfed 25 months or more were one -third less likely to develop breast cancer than women who had given birth but never breastfed.

Another gift of breastfeeding is that of weight loss. One study showed that the tendency to store fat on the thighs was reduced in women who were breastfeeeding. Another study showed that nursing mothers lost more weight without dieting by the time their babies were six months old as compared to mothers who used artificial baby milk and who had been eating less. Mothers who are exclusively breastfeeding (that means no supplemental bottle or pacifiers and at least one nighttime feeding), experience a delay in the return of ovulation and menstruation. This benefit can offer natural child spacing and can also be a gift to women who suffer from premenstrual problems.

Many people appreciate the gift of cash. Breastfeeding saves money not only because artificial baby milk purchases are unnecessary, but also because of fewer medical bills and possibly fewer orthodontic bills since breastfed babies have better jaw development.

Gifts to Our World: When a mother decides to breastfeed her baby, her decision actually affects our world. Pollution of air, water and land caused by the manufacturing of artificial baby milk is decreased along with use of energy resources need for heating up and storing artificial baby milk. Our world says “Thank you!” for this wonderful gift to all the breastfeeding mothers out there.

The above list is just a “drop in the bucket” of the benefits of breastfeeding. Scientists are just beginning to scratch the surface when discovering more and more of these benefits. Your milk is alive, it’s perfect for your baby and it’s a great gift for you and for our world.