Breastfeeding has both short- and long-term preventive effects against specific ailments and disorders, according to a nutritionist, Ms. Uju Onuorah. She said breastfed babies have a lower risk of type one diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, and obesity later in life.
“Breastmilk contains antibodies, which help protect the infant against many common childhood illnesses,” said Onuorah in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria on Sunday in Abuja. “In the long term, breastfed children, especially exclusively breastfed infants, have been found to have a lower risk of developing obesity, type one diabetes and cardiovascular diseases later in life.”
Onuorah added that breastfeeding can be protective against multiple respiratory and gastrointestinal acute illnesses in some children up to at least six months of age. She emphasized that the nutrients in breastmilk can fully satisfy a baby’s nutritional demands for the first six months and after that point, it is advised that the mother continue breastfeeding for another two years while also providing the child with complementary foods.
“Both stomach and ear infections are prevented by it and numerous studies have demonstrated that there is a decreased risk of asthma, obesity, type one diabetes, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome,” said the expert.
The immune system of a baby is strengthened by breastfeeding because breastmilk contains antibodies that are beneficial to the baby, Onuorah explained. She also said that breastfeeding encourages healthy brain development and is connected to children’s and adolescents’ improved performance on Intelligence Quotient tests.
Speaking about the hormones contained in human breastmilk, the nutritionist said they include leptin, adiponectin, Insulin Growth Factor (IGF-1), ghrelin, obestatin, and resistin. She said these hormones were believed to contribute to various aspects of infant growth, development, metabolism, and overall health outcomes in the long run.
“Breast milk also contains prolactin and oxytocin, but only in small amounts as these hormones are transferred from the mother to the infant during breastfeeding,” Onuorah said. “These hormones are naturally present in the mother’s body. Prolactin is responsible for lactation and breast tissue development, among other bodily processes, in lactating mothers. Oxytocin, on the other hand, facilitates the release of breast milk from the mother’s breasts and helps the uterus shrink after giving birth.”
Onuorah further explained that prolactin affects the amount of breast milk the mother produces, whereas oxytocin causes the let-down reflex and the release of breast milk. She said the health benefits of breastfeeding were more pronounced when the mother exclusively breastfeeds her child for six months. She, therefore, advised mothers to follow the World Health Organizations’ recommendation to breastfeed their babies exclusively for six months and for up to two or three years in addition to other nutritious foods.
For mothers, Onuorah said that mothers who breastfeed have major health benefits because they are less likely to acquire certain diseases, including ovarian and breast cancer, type two diabetes, and high blood pressure. “The mother’s recovery from childbirth can also be aided by breastfeeding. The process of nursing encourages the body to produce more oxytocin.”
Following delivery, oxytocin helps the uterus contract, hastening the return of its pre-pregnancy size and reducing vaginal bleeding. It also encourages the mother and child’s physical and emotional attachment because the ability to forge a close bond with your child through breastfeeding is unique and wonderful, said Onuorah.
She also explained that for certain mothers, breastfeeding might facilitate quick weight loss following delivery, adding that it even costs almost nothing to breastfeed, compared to the cost of instant formula. The nutritionist added that breastfeeding could help avoid conception, referring to it as the Lactation Amenorrhea Method. She explained that although its efficacy varies among mothers, it serves as a form of birth control.
Onuorah emphasized the importance of educating mothers about the benefits of breastfeeding and providing them with support to continue breastfeeding. She also urged healthcare providers to promote breastfeeding and provide resources for mothers to make informed decisions about their child’s nutrition. With proper education and support, more mothers can choose to breastfeed and give their babies the best start in life.