Healthy Beginnings

Breast is Best: Why “Liquid Gold” is Best for Baby, and Mother

By Meredith Caines Pollaro, OTR/L, IBCLC

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We’ve all heard the phrase “breast is best.” But have you ever wondered why? Is it the cost savings? The studies suggesting higher IQ scores? Reduced risk of post- partum depression? Or, the promise of easier post-partum weight loss? Maybe, it’s improved overall health for mom and baby? Personally, I enjoy the convenience and ease of traveling with a breastfed infant and most definitely a nursing toddler.

Cuddling skin-to-skin with a new baby is such a treat. Not only is mom getting her daily dose of oxytocin but skin-to-skin time also helps with temperature control, digestion, bonding and calming.

Did you know that human breast milk is very specific to meet the needs of our human infants? We often hear it called “liquid gold” and think of colostrum as a baby’s first and very important immunization. Breast milk changes in composition during pregnancy, at birth and during the first days and weeks of life. These changes are not only to ensure nutritional content tailored to your infant in real time, but also for offering immunological components, growth factors, enzymes and hormones at the optimal time for your child.

Immunities are made-to-order. Each mother provides custom-designed milk to protect her infant. When a baby is exposed to a new germ the mother’s body manufactures antibodies to that germ. These antibodies show up in her milk and are passed along to her nursling. Many a breastfeeding mother including myself can tell the story of the entire family becoming ill and the nursing child only having a mild case, or not getting sick at all. When a mother is sick, the best thing she can do for her children is to keep breastfeeding. You might ask how does this work? The theory is that the child’s saliva stimulates the breast to make antibodies specific to the illness.

Breast milk provides immediate protection against neonatal septicemia, respiratory tract infections, ear infections, diarrhea, urinary tract infections, infection-induced wheezing and necrotizing enterocolitis. While most immunity is directed to protect against acute infection, human milk components appear to prevent a host of chronic diseases as well. These benefits to the child have been reported through research to include type 1 and 2 diabetes, celiac disease, childhood obesity, asthma, allergies, infectious morbidity, Multiple Sclerosis, Leukemia, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), heart disease and Crohn’s disease, and even more are being studied. This does not include all the countless health benefits to the mother who breastfeeds. That will be an article for another day.

So, what are the experts saying? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life, continuing at least through the infant’s first birthday, and as long thereafter as is mutually desired. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends at least 2 years of breastfeeding for all infants.

The benefits for extended breastfeeding are immense and range from kids eating a wider variety of foods to an improved immune system. Nursing a toddler still provides a multitude of benefits and improves overall health of the mother and child. I am often contacted (as an IBCLC and a mother who nursed her toddler) by friends who ask, in secret, “Is it okay that I keep nursing even though my child tuned one?” Family and provider support can be good up until that first birthday, but quickly taper o as time goes on. Finding a provider who acknowledges the benefits of extended breastfeeding is critical to success, and we are in luck that the research is there to support the continued health benefits.

Studies show most moms start out wanting to breastfeed. Around 80 percent of moms will initiate breastfeeding, but the 2016 CDC Report Card shows numbers drop to about 25 percent by 6 months for exclusive breastfeeding. Lack of support and up-to- date breastfeeding education are often contributing factors. Seeking skilled help early on from an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) when things are not going well and finding a local support person or group are key to success.

The Nurturing Nest holds a free weekly Breastfeeding Circle at noon on Mondays. Siblings and nursing toddlers are always welcome, as we meet next to the playroom.