Breast Feeding: Health Benefits for Your Baby
Maternal milk is the ideal food for your baby. It is complete, and it does not require any supplements, at least during the first months of life. It is the basic food for the baby’s nutrition during the first year because it satisfies all the nutritional needs of the baby.
Breast feeding is the single most important thing you can do for your newborn. It is so important that all the leading scientific societies, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Italian Society of Neonatology, both state that breast feeding is the best source of nutrition for your newborn baby, during the first six months of life. The American Academy of Pediatrics, moreover, recommends breast feeding the baby up to the age of one year, if possible.
Opinion of the World Health Organization (WHO)
“Breast feeding is an integral part of the reproductive process; it is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and developments of infants”. (Joint declaration of O.M.S. - UNICEF of Geneva - October, 1979). Breast feeding offers so many important benefits that the World Health Organization advises mothers to breast feed for at least the first six months of life and continue to producing milk up to the first year and beyond, while gradually introducing complementary foods.
Psychological Aspects of Breast Feeding
The newborn baby feels the warmth of the mother’s breast and the love and security necessary for a correct psychological development. For her part, the mother becomes aware of the deep bond with her child and of how much her baby depends upon her while breast feeding. It is a way to care for, provide comfort and make the baby feel how much she loves it. The mother feels the pleasure in being a source of gratification for her child and has a feeling of well-being, which she transmits to her baby. A baby, who senses that its mother is well, grows with peace of mind.
The experience of the child during breast feeding is very important from the psychological point of view due to the relationship that the baby develops with its mother and then with the surrounding environment.
The relationship of affection, in fact, is of prime importance in developing its personal identity and acquiring knowledge of the outer world. During breast feeding, an intimate and profound communication between the mother and the baby is born. It grows with secret dialog, shared looks and intense emotions.
Composition of the Maternal Milk
The nutritional elements present in human milk favor an optimal psychophysical development and, at the same time, carry out an important preventive role in regard to the development of the following disorders in adult life: obesity, diabetes, arterial hypertension, and arteriosclerosis1. It contains the following nutrients:
Proteins: They are more nutritious, easier to digest, less allergenic, and with a stronger anti-infective function than cow milk.
Sugars: 90% of mother’s milk is made up of lactose. The absence of sucrose in human milk prevents the baby from getting used to the consumption of food which is excessively sweet and reduces the risk of dental decay.
Fats: They are well digested and absorbed by the intestines. Human milk is particularly rich in essential fats, that is to say, those fats that the organism is not able to produce and which must be taken with the food.
Mineral Salts: They are not plentiful, but this is an advantage, as the kidneys of a newborn baby are still not able to eliminate an excess of mineral salts with urine, whilst at the same time, they keep the amount of water that the organism needs. In this way, the organism of the newborn baby avoids the risk of dehydration.
Vitamins: They are sufficient for the baby’s requirement, including Vitamin D, on condition that the mother’s diet is well balanced.
Calcium: It is present to a lower extent than in cow milk, but it is better absorbed by the intestines.
Iron: only starting from the 6th to 9th month of life, it is necessary to integrate this element into the feeding of the baby (weaning).
Sodium: It is present in moderate quantities, which prevents the newborn baby from getting used to a salty taste. It protects the baby against the development of arterial hypertension in the course of time.
Water: It completely covers the baby’s needs.
Human Milk and the Immune System
Breast feeding ensures the development of the immune system of the baby, which is still incomplete. By means of the maternal milk, in particular with the colostrums, the mother passes antibodies, white blood cells and other antibacterial, antiviral, and antifungal substances like lisozime and lactoferrin to the baby. Maternal milk contains substances that cement intestinal cells, which makes them less permeable to toxic substances and infective agents. Studies have shown that breast fed babies are less sensitive to different types of illnesses like gastroenteritis, diarrhoea, vomiting, bronchitis, infections of urinary passages and intolerance to gluten. Because mother’s milk is easy to digest, babies have fewer problems of flatulence and colic. Recent studies have shown that breast feeding has a protective effect regarding cot death syndrome, diabetes, lymphomas, and numerous chronic intestinal illnesses2.
Human milk and intellectual development: Breast fed babies show better intellectual development and higher visual skills. This is probably due to the presence of appropriate quantities of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, better known as omega-3 in maternal milk. These substances are structural constituents of the membranes of brain cells and the retina and apparently help the transmission of nerve stimuli between the cells of the nervous system, and inside the cells themselves.