In my previous post on Breastfeeding and Social Justice, I noted that breastfeeding has so many benefits to a baby that it is an injustice not to provide that form of baby care and nutrition. That needs some documentation so here I will list 28 health benefits for the baby, 21 of which are specific and seven are more general. Then I will list eight specific health benefits for the breastfeeding mother. What follows is taken from Chapter 6 in Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach.
Breastfeeding provides many health benefits for a baby, and, most importantly, a baby thrives emotionally with the repeated close contact with his mother that breastfeeding provides. Of course breastfed babies get sick occasionally, but statistically there is no debate: breastfed babies are healthier. The American Academy of Pediatrics (aap.org), The American Academy of Family Physicians (aafp.org), and the United States Breastfeeding Committee (usbreastfeeding.org) report specific health benefits for breastfed children. The list below is compiled from the websites of these three organizations. Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of the following diseases for babies and children.
• allergies • asthma • autoimmune thyroid disease • bacterial meningitis • botulism • Crohn’s disease
• diarrhea • ear infections • eczema • gastroenteritis • inflammatory bowel disease • leukemia • lymphoma
• multiple sclerosis • necrotizing enterocolitis • obesity • respiratory tract infections
• sudden infant death syndrome • ulcerative colitis • type 1 and type 2 diabetes • urinary tract infections
Compared to those who are not breastfed, breastfed children
• stay in the hospital fewer days as premature infants,
• have a more mature infant intestinal tract,
• have a better immune system and a better response to vaccinations,
• have fewer sick days,
• score higher on visual acuity tests, and
• score higher on cognitive and IQ tests at school age.
Are the benefits of breastfeeding dose-related?
Yes. According to the American Academy of Family Physicians,
1. “The strongest evidence indicates that these positive [health] effects of breastfeeding are most significant with six months of exclusive breastfeeding,” and
2. “the effects are dose-related, with improved outcomes being associated with longer breastfeeding.” (AAFP Position Paper on “Breastfeeding.”)
What are the risks for the mother who does not breastfeed?
The mother who does not breastfeed may have an increased risk for the following diseases:
• breast cancer • endometrial cancer • ovarian cancer • thyroid cancer • anemia • lupus
• rheumatoid arthritis • osteoporosis (increased chance of a hip fracture)
Should a mother feel guilty if she is unable to breastfeed?
No. Any mother who made every reasonable effort to breastfeed and was unsuccessful should never feel guilty. She gave it her best try.
We hope that mothers who want to breastfeed will receive the support and correct information needed so that there will be minimal problems in getting started. One of the benefits of doing ecological breastfeeding (EBF) is that the milk supply is usually ample due to the frequent and unrestricted suckling.
What are the advantages for the mother if she breastfeeds?
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) lists eight benefits for the breastfeeding mother:
1. decreased postpartum bleeding
2. more rapid uterine involution attributable to increased concentrations of oxytocin, (that is, it helps the uterus to shrink to its normal size)
3. decreased menstrual blood loss
4. increased child spacing attributable to lactational amenorrhea (the absence of menstrual periods due to breastfeeding)
5. earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight
6. decreased risk of breast cancer
7. decreased risk of ovarian cancer and
8. possibly decreased risk of osteoporosis and hip fracture in the postmenopausal period (AAP Policy Statement on Breastfeeding, Feb. 2005).
End of text from Natural Family Planning: The Complete Approach
I think these lists are quite impressive. I didn’t make them up or even research them. My wife, Sheila, did the research and wrote most of Chapter 6 in our NFP manual. Good health is a great blessing, and I think that most parents want to do what is best for their babies, and that starts the first minutes after childbirth. Yes, that first hour is important, as Sheila reported a few weeks ago. Perhaps more on that later.
The point I want to make is that this information should be shared with every prospective mother well before childbirth. It should be taught in pre-marriage instruction and again in pre-baptism instruction. To be sure, no one needs to memorize the lists, but the basic fact that breastfeeding, especially ecological breastfeeding, is so helpful for a baby’s health simply must be taught. I emphasize ecological breastfeeding because its frequent nursing maximizes the dose-related good effects. For those who know these things and refuse to share them, isn’t that an injustice towards babies and their parents?