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Breastfeeding Community

Benefits of Breast Milk: How Does Breastfeeding Protect My Infant?

Nutrition and Dietetics Student | Shield HealthCare
12/29/17  2:58 PM PST
benefits of breast milk

A Brief History of Infant Nutrition

Human mothers breastfeeding their infants has been around from the start of human existence. From what we can learn from history, from 2000 BC until the 20th century, wet nursing, animal milk and broth were among the acceptable alternatives to a mother’s milk. Nevertheless, breastfeeding has proven to be the safest form of infant nutrition.

Over time, the popularity of mothers nursing their own children has varied. Wet nursing was a well-paid profession until the 20th century, when infant formula began to be manufactured. Even so, wet nursing was not without scrutiny and distrust due to the believed-to-be unfavorable bonding between the wet nurse and the baby, and the “transmission” of physical and psychological traits to the infant through the milk.

Breastfeeding is on the rise again. No matter whom the human milk is coming from, the benefits of breast milk have always been clear. These children tend to suffer less from ear infections, obesity, and necrotizing enterocolitis, to name a few benefits. Breastfeeding may be our number one line of defense against illness.

The Benefits of Breast Milk

Human breast milk (HBM) contains a fine balance of immunoglobulins (antibodies), proteins, fat, and carbohydrates. These nutrients work together to nourish and protect the growing infant.

One specific factor of HBM is the human milk oligosaccharide (HMO) – a complex carbohydrate that is non-digestible. These non-digestibles, called prebiotics, are food for the good bacteria found in the gut. A newborn acquires the gut flora from mom via the birth canal, breast milk, skin, and possibly the placenta. To keep this gut flora plentiful, specific prebiotics need to ingested regularly.

HMOs specifically fuel a strain of healthy bacteria found in the intestines of infants. More HMOs from breast milk mean a stronger gut flora, protecting and strengthening the growing baby. This army of gut flora fights pathogens, digests nutrients, and synthesizes vitamins for the baby to use.

A strong gut and immune systems means reduced risk of allergies, inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, diabetes, infections, and necrotizing enterocolitis.

Human milk is a particular marvel.” – Ed Young, The New Yorker

References

Frontiers in Nutrition

International Journal of Molecular Sciences

mSphere

PLoS ONE

The Journal of Perinatal Education