Benefits of Breast Feeding

Breast feeding contributes to both maternal and infant nutrition and health through a number of important mechanisms. It provides a complete source of nutrition for the first 6 months of life for normal, full-term infants and provides one-half and one-third of energy needs for the second half of the first year and the second year of life, respectively. It also contributes significantly to protein and micro-nutrient requirements. Numerous studies have shown that during illness, whereas intake of complementary foods declines significantly, breast milk intake does not decrease. Because of the well-established superiority of breast milk over other infant feeding modes, women cannot ethically be randomized in infant feeding studies and as a result most data on the benefits of breast-feeding and the risks of not breast feeding are observational. However, the dose-response effect observed in such studies, even when donor breast milk is provided through a nasogastric tube to premature newborns, provides evidence of causality.

A large-scale study involving more than 17000 infants in which breast feeding promotion was randomized and morbidity results analyzed on an 'intention to treat' basis, with breast feeding promotion as the treatment, also provides evidence of causality. Infants born in hospitals and provided care in clinics randomized to breast feeding promotion were 40% less likely to have more than one case of gastrointestinal infection and 50% less likely to have atopic eczema than infants not randomized to this intervention (Figure 3). The intervention significantly increased the duration of exclusive breast feeding at 3 months from 6 to 43% and the duration of partial breast-feeding at lyear from 11 to 20%. Therefore, this study proved through a causal design that better breast feeding practices reduce risk of diarrhea and eczema, and that hospital and clinic-based interventions can result in large-scale shifts in behavior.

A pooled analysis of longitudinal data from Brazil, Pakistan, and the Philippines showed that during infancy breast feeding resulted in a 6-fold reduction in mortality during the first month of life, a 4-fold reduction in the second month, and a 2-fold reduction thereafter (Figure 4). In none of the studies was exclusive breast feeding sufficiently prevalent to examine the additional preventive effect of exclusive breast feeding over partial breast feeding. However, case-control studies that have examined breast feeding and mortality show that infants who are exclusively breast fed for the first 2 months of life have a 24-fold reduced risk of diarrhea compared to those exclusively bottle fed (Figure 5).

It is well established that breast-fed infants have a different pattern of growth. The fact that the nutrient composition of breast milk is qualitatively and

New Mothers Guide to Breast Feeding

New Mothers Guide to Breast Feeding

For many years, scientists have been playing out the ingredients that make breast milk the perfect food for babies. They've discovered to day over 200 close compounds to fight infection, help the immune system mature, aid in digestion, and support brain growth - nature made properties that science simply cannot copy. The important long term benefits of breast feeding include reduced risk of asthma, allergies, obesity, and some forms of childhood cancer. The more that scientists continue to learn, the better breast milk looks.

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