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Breastfeeding has many benefits, just a few risks

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POSTED: August 23, 2007 5:03 a.m.
It is amazing how many myths there are about breastfeeding. I can understand how some women get confused, especially when they get so many different stories — from what you can’t do to what terrible things breastfeeding will do to your body.
If this is happening to you, please get answers from health professionals (preferable a breastfeeding consultant); and not neighbors or friends who may have never tried it.
There are so many benefits to your baby and to you when you breastfeed, and breastfeeding is really easier than using formula because you don’t have to mix formula, sterilize so many bottles and deal with sickly babies.
Not only does human milk provide all the protein, sugar, fat and vitamins your baby needs to be healthy, it has special benefits that formulas cannot match. In addition to necessary nutrients, human milk contains at least 100 other ingredients not found in formula. In these are just the right amount of fatty acids, lactose, water and amino acids for human digestion, brain development and growth.
Breastfed babies are never allergic to their mother’s milk, although they may have reactions to items eaten by her. When these items are eliminated from her diet, the problem resolves itself.
A breast-fed baby’s digestive tract contains large amounts of lactobacillus bifidus, a beneficial bacterium that prevents the growth of harmful organisms. They also have fewer illnesses because human milk transfers the mother’s antibodies against disease to her baby.
About 80 percent of the cells in breast milk are macrophages. Macrophages are cells that kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. Breast-fed babies are protected, in varying degrees, from a number of illnesses, including pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections and German measles.
In addition, mothers produce antibodies to whatever disease is present in their environment, making their milk custom-designed to fight the diseases their babies will be exposed to.
Studies have shown that babies who were exclusively breastfed during their first three months of life had a 34 percent lower risk of developing diabetes than those who were not breastfed. Research also suggests that breastfeeding may help to protect against sudden infant death syndrome, Hodgkin’s disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and Crohns disease, as well as other health problems.
Because of the protective substances in human milk, breastfed children are also less likely to have allergies, vomiting, diarrhea and meningitis
Sucking at the breast promotes good jaw development since it is harder work to get milk out of a breast than a bottle, and the exercise strengthens the jaws and encourages the growth of straight, healthy teeth. The baby at the breast can also control the flow of milk by sucking and stopping. With a bottle, the baby must constantly suck or react to the pressure of the nipple placed in the mouth.
The psychological benefits of breastfeeding are equally important. Breastfeeding provides physical contact, warmth and closeness that help to create a special bond between a mother and her baby. Many psychologists believe that nursing babies enjoy a heightened sense of security from the warmth and presence of their mother, especially when there’s skin-to-skin contact during feeding.
Parents of bottle-fed babies may be tempted to prop bottles in the baby’s mouth, with no human contact during feeding. But a nursing mother must cuddle her infant closely many times during the day. Nursing becomes more than a way to feed a baby; it’s a source of warmth and comfort.
Breast-feeding is good for new mothers as well as for their babies. It is certainly easier since there are no bottles to sterilize and no formula to buy, measure and mix. It may also be easier for her to lose the extra pounds from pregnancy, since nursing uses up extra calories. In addition, lactation stimulates the uterus to contract back to its original size creating a slimmer abdomen. Other health benefits for the mother include:
• Reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and, in pre-menopausal women, breast cancer.
• Builds bone strength to protect against bone fractures in older age.
• Delays the return of your menstrual period, which may help extend the time between pregnancies. (Keep in mind that breastfeeding alone will not prevent pregnancy.)
• Helps the uterus return to its regular size more quickly.
Breastfeeding mothers should understand, however, that:
• Any medications they take may enter the breast milk and affect the baby (check with your physician or lactation consultant about which are safe)
• You need to maintain adequate nutrition you should drink plenty of fluids, especially water, every day
• You need to get plenty of rest
• You should take good care of your nipples and breasts
• You need to relax and enjoy the experience
Nursing mothers should avoid smoking. Nicotine can cause vomiting, diarrhea and restlessness in the baby, as well as decreased milk production for the mother. Maternal smoking or passive smoke may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome and may increase respiratory and ear infections.
Women interested in breast-feeding should also be aware that some viruses can pass through breast milk, and HIV (the virus that causes AIDS) is one of them. Women who are HIV positive should not breast-feed. A few other illnesses — such as herpes, hepatitis, and beta streptococcus infections — can also be transmitted through breast milk. But that doesn’t necessarily mean that they shouldn’t breastfeed if they have them. But it does mean they should discuss the situation with their physician.

Ratcliffe works with the Coastal Health District out of the Liberty County office.
 

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