The Benefits of Breast Milk

George Wootan, M.D., outlines some of the most compelling benefits of breast milk and breastfeeding in this article from 1985.

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    Breastfed babies tend to get sick less often than formula-fed babies.
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    Breastfeeding provides important nutrition for your little one, and it's a great time to bond.

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Note: This piece was originally published in 1985, and some of the medical information and advice within the article may be outdated and/or incorrect. Please consult a medical professional for up-to-date breastfeeding advice. 

According to a recent study, only 57.6 percent of new American mothers breastfeed their babies. But instead of repeating the common arguments for nursing — in an attempt to convert the other 42.4 percent — I'd like to share, with all parents, some of the recent scientific findings concerning breastfeeding and how the mother-child relationship can develop during this special time.

Colostrum Benefits Baby

Before the breasts of a new mother produce milk, they release a thick, yellow substance called colostrum, which has immune properties and which is actually higher in protein, minerals, vitamin A and nitrogen than milk is. Colostrum coats the baby's stomach and intestines to help ward off harmful diseases, such as polio and pneumonia, and helps the baby pass meconium — a tarry substance that accumulates in the intestines. Also, cells in colostrum called macrophages destroy potentially dangerous bacteria.

How breastfeeding Works

When breast milk begins to flow (approximately two to three days after delivery), it, too, provides important vitamins and minerals for your baby, including the brain-cell-builder taurine. While taurine is not an essential amino acid, its high concentration in breast milk does seem to indicate a need that cannot be met by the child's own body. But how much taurine is in formula or cow's milk? None! (Have you ever seen a smart cow?) Yet, extremely high levels of this "smart" substance are found in the brains of children, indicating that it is an important aid to brain growth. Perhaps not coincidentally, 96 percent of brain growth occurs by the age of 5 years, and the average age at which a child is weaned in most cultures that practice infant-led weaning is — you guessed it — five years.

Two commonly told stories about breast milk are that it has very little iron and that it lacks vitamin D. But the fact is that breast milk does contain sufficient amounts of both nutrients, providing the mother has them to give (she should follow a balanced diet and boost her daily caloric intake to about 3,500). True, cow's milk and formula might contain more iron, but it is in a form that is poorly absorbed by infants. So babies fed these substitutes get anemic around 6 months of age if they don't receive supplemental iron. This is not true of breastfed infants. For example, a group of babies in Japan were totally breastfed for two years without any difficulties.

In the case of vitamin D, researchers spent a lot of time and money fruitlessly looking for that essential nutrient in the fatty portion of breast milk. But where was it? In the watery part they normally threw down the sink! Now scientists realize that there is no reason to give a nursing child vitamin D supplements, even if Mom is an Eskimo and doesn't see the sun for six months!

2/13/2014 8:32:37 AM

It’s a very beneficial post, breast milk is better for a child, those take the milk they look very healthy and beautiful. Most of the people don't like to give the breast milk so the children face the problem, so always try to give the breast milk to the baby, it also cure many type of disease.

5/20/2013 1:44:05 PM

Great post on the benefits of breastmilk! I would recommend one additional benefit that a lot of research has come out in support of recently: prebiotics. These gut bacteria have an ever growing list of proven health benefits for babies: Thanks! Brian

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