The health beneﬁts of breastfeeding for the child are substantial (Grummer-Strawn 2015). They’re thrust at us at our first antenatal appointment and continue to do so throughout our pregnancy. Perhaps another reason that new mums are set up to fail. They are told the importance of why they should breastfeed but not effectively supported in how to breastfeed.
So what health benefits to a child does breastfeeding provide? Breastfed children have a lower risk of obesity (Horta 2015), and subsequently reduced risk of diabetes later in life (Rollins 2016), they have less asthma (Lodge 2015), reduced malocclusion (Peres 2015) – a condition in which the teeth can be seriously misaligned and lead to prolonged and painful treatment to rectify, a lower risk of lower respiratory infections, gastroenteritis, necrotising enterocolitis (the most common gastrointestinal emergency occurring in neonates), middle ear infections and tooth decay (Rollins 2016). More recently, this year, researchers found a beneficial link between the sugars found in breastmilk and their ability to slow the growth of group B Streptococcus – a very nasty bacterial infection that can cause preterm birth, stillbirth, and neonatal sepsis, and two further types of bacterial infection prevalent in children, one linked to MRSA (Ackerman 2018). Rather more concerning is that mortality rates are higher among infants never breastfed compared to those exclusively breastfed for the first 6months and continued to be breastfed beyond 6 months (Sankar 2015) and that the risk of sudden infant death is higher in formula fed infants (Rollins 2016).
This is a timely reminder that breastfeeding is the biological normal, so giving artificial milk actively increases the risk of the conditions stated above. That’s not to say that breastfeeding stops these conditions from happening 100% nor does it mean that if you give formula, the infant will get these. What it means is that if a child is fed artificial milk, they have a higher chance of suffering from these conditions than children who are not. It’s a fact and certainly not an opportunity to “bash” formula feeding mums who didn’t have any other option. But for some mums, during those appetite spurts, when their baby seems to be feeding non-stop, it can be all too easy to reach for the formula. Because they doubt their supply, they doubt their ability that they can do it, and then because their baby guzzles a bottle they can assume they must be starving their baby. But providing the knowledge of why not to give up on a bad day and educating mums on what is normal is what’s important. For a mum to know how to know that her breastfeeding is going just fine. That’s what we should focus on.
Feature photo credit: Adobe Stock
Ackerman D, Craft K, Doster R, Weitkamp J-H, Aronoff D, Gaddy J, Townsend S Antimicrobial and Antibiofilm Activity of Human Milk Oligosaccharides against Streptococcus agalactiae, Staphylococcus aureus, and Acinetobacter baumannii. ACS Infect.Dis., 2018, 4(3), pp 315-324
Grummer-Strawn, L., & Rollins, N. (2015). Summarising the health effects of breastfeeding. Acta Pediatrica, 104(S467), 1–2
Horta BL, de Mola CL, Victora CG. Long-term consequences of breastfeeding on cholesterol, obesity, systolic blood pressure,and type-2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. ActaPaediatr 2015; 104 (Suppl. 467): 30–7
Lodge CJ, Tan DJ, Lau M, Dai X, Tham R, Lowe AJ, et al. Breastfeeding and asthma and allergies: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatr 2015; 104 (Suppl. 467):38–53
Peres KG, Cascaes AM, Nascimento GG, Victora CG. Effect of breastfeeding on malocclusions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatr 2015; 104 (Suppl. 467): 54–61
Rollins N, Bhandari N, Hajeebhoy N et al. Why invest, and what it will take to improve breastfeeding practices? The Lancet 2016; 387(10017): 491–504
Sankar MJ, Sinha B, Chowdhury R, Bhandari N, Taneja S,Martines J, et al. Optimal breastfeeding practices and infant andchild mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. ActaPaediatr 2015; 104 (Suppl. 467): 3–13