Hello, Health

Why breastfeeding is irreplaceable

Feeding the baby is equally beneficial for the mother.

 |  Hello, Health  |  3-minute read |   30-04-2018
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Milk is a mammalian miracle. I love the way this line has been framed, and also its subtext and message.

Enough has been said and written about how important it is to breastfeed children for at least six months. Earlier generations would do it intuitively, but somehow, somewhere along the line, breastfeeding became less fashionable and inconvenient, and slowly fell off the grid. In fact, it was ceremoniously all but dumped by mothers worldwide. So much so that for an entire generation or two, it became uncool to breastfeed, and millions of children worldwide missed out on its benefits.

Fortunately, scientists noted the ill-effects of this trend, extensive research happened and uncovered the logic and science behind it and brought breastfeeding back to the forefront. Now, of course, it has been established beyond doubt that not only is breast milk easier for an infant to digest, it also contains just the right amount of fat, sugar, water and protein to help a baby grow well. Plus, it is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect a baby from illnesses. It contains antibodies that help the baby fight off viruses and bacteria, lowers the risk of asthma and allergies, and also helps reduce the child’s risk of developing chronic conditions like Type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, colitis and Crohn's disease.

What’s more, breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood, too.

breast-feeding-690_043018024031.jpgBreastfeeding mothers also have less postpartum anxiety and depression than those who don’t.

Earlier, these benefits were just theories based on long-term observational research, but lately, the reasons behind these benefits are getting unveiled and becoming crystal clear. Most of the benefits stem from a special component found in breast milk called Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs). At the last count, scientists had identified more than two hundred of them in breast milk.

HMOs are a rich source of energy, but that’s not their real purpose it seems, as babies don’t have the capability to digest them. These actually pass through the stomach and the small intestine straight into the large intestine where they release short-chain fatty acids that serve as food for microbes. In breastfed babies, HMOs thus feed the good bacteria in a baby’s gut, which constitutes about 70 percent of the immune system.

Some also get absorbed into the bloodstream, help keep anti-inflammatory molecules out of the bloodstream, and provide a boost to the immune system by naturally turning on the body's innate, inborn mechanisms to protect itself. This explains why babies who are breastfed usually have stronger, developing immune systems.

Now the milk of all mammals has some HMOs, but human breast milk has five times as many HMOs as cow’s milk, and several hundred times the quantity. Breast milk is thus undoubtedly far superior and simply irreplaceable.

What’s more, feeding the baby is equally beneficial for the mother. Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so can help mothers lose pregnancy weight faster. It releases the hormone oxytocin which helps the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and also lowers women’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer and of osteoporosis (bone thinning).

Breastfeeding mothers also have less postpartum anxiety and depression than those who don’t.

While the resurgence of breastfeeding awareness began after the initial hype in the mid-90s (with multiple stories and propaganda about the benefits of breastfeeding), lately, I have noticed there has been a lull in discussions about this very important topic. Let’s not make the same mistake again. Let the significance of this health tenet not fade away from our minds.

I believe a constant reminder will only help, hence this column: a gentle reminder about why breast milk will and must always rule.

Also read: Foods you must eat to stay happy

Writer

Kavita Devgan Kavita Devgan @kavitadevgan

The writer is a nutritionist, weight management consultant and health writer based in Delhi. She is the author of Don't Diet! 50 Habits of Thin People (Jaico) and Ultimate Grandmother Hacks: 50 Kickass Traditional Habits for a Fitter You (Rupa).

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