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Advantages of breastfeeding

Advantages of Breastfeeding to Society

Breastfeeding is more than a personal or family matter, and the decision to breastfeed affects more than an individual mother-baby pair or a single family. Breastfeeding rates have a powerful impact on the whole society by affecting the health of mothers and babies, the economy, and the environment.

Our entire society benefits when babies are given the best possible start in life.
The babies being born today will be our country’s future and the nutrition they receive in infancy will serve as the cornerstone of their growth and development. When our children are given every chance to reach their full potential as adults, all of us stand to benefit. Conversely, when babies face health disadvantages because of their early diet, we all pay the price.

Breastfeeding helps to protect the environment:

Environmentally-friendly in its production, consumption and disposal, breastfeeding is a natural and renewable resource.
On the other hand, the production of formula, cans, bottles, nipples, labels, packaging, and advertising uses trees, metal, glass, plastics, paper, and fuel and creates an enormous volume of waste materials.

Breastfeeding saves money that would otherwise be spent on formula.

The average family of a bottle-fed baby spends £450 each year on formula. Breastfeeding also makes economic sense because it is less costly to produce than formula; it also allows society to make considerable savings in health care costs.
Breastfeeding reduces infant health care costs because breastfed babies have fewer hospitalizations and fewer infections.
The latest set of infant feeding profiles (2010 to 2011) from the Department of Health show a correlation between higher breastfeeding rates and lower rates of inpatient admissions for babies less than one year old.
This analysis shows a correlation at Primary Care Trust level between higher rates of breastfeeding prevalence and lower rates of inpatient admissions among infants under one year old for 10 conditions, including lower respiratory tract infections, gastroenteritis, eczema, otitis media (ear infection), lactose intolerance and asthma.
For some conditions, like otitis media, there was also a correlation between breastfeeding prevalence and the rates of admission for children aged 1 to 5 years.

Gastro-enteritis is up to 10 times more common among bottle-fed babies. The hospitalisation of one infant with gastro-enteritis costs between £500 and £1000. Department of Health statistics reveal that 11,554 babies were hospitalised with gastro-enteritis in the UK in 1992. This cost the NHS approx £12 million. Cases of gastro-enteritis treated by GPs cost the NHS a further £6 million. Breastfed babies are rarely hospitalised for gastro-enteritis.
Breastfeeding also protects against many other diseases and infections all of which incur costs to the NHS and distress to families. For example, bottle fed babies are twice as likely to suffer from respiratory infections. 49,000 babies were hospitalised with respiratory infections in 1992. Source: Protective effect of breastfeeding against infection. Howie et al., BMJ 1990 336

Current Infant-Feeding Recommendations

Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed1 for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health2. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production. (World Health Organisation)

Breastfeeding benefits for Children

Before a baby is born, the uterus protects him or her against most of the germs to which the mother is exposed. After birth, the mother’s breast milk continues to protect against many of the viruses, bacteria and parasites to which the baby is now exposed. Several substances in breast milk not only prevent diseases;
some stimulate and strengthen the development of the baby’s immature immune system, resulting in better health, even years after breastfeeding has ended. For these and other reasons, based on scientific evidence, the World Health Organisation has adopted, as a public health recommendation, that babies should be fed exclusively on breast milk for six months and continue breastfeeding at least until two years of age.

Breastfeeding promotes child survival

If all babies were fed only breast milk for the first six months of life, the lives of an estimated 1.5 million infants would be saved every year and the health and development of millions of others would be greatly improved

In resource-poor settings, exclusive breastfeeding may be the best option for HIV-positive mothers. This is confirmed by the November 2006 WHO Consensus Statement on HIV and Infant Feeding.
Breastfeeding is an essential means of providing food security for millions of infants worldwide and even more so in developing countries and in regions having to cope with war, conflict, population displacement, natural disasters, or economic crises.

Breastfeeding reduces the incidence of infectious diseases

  • Otitis media: Middle ear infections are one of the most frequent reasons for seeing the doctor. In a US study, infants from birth to twelve months who were not breastfed had twice as many ear infections as babies who were exclusively breastfed for about four months
  • Diarrhoea: The antibodies in a mother’s milk protect her baby from the germs causing diarrhoea. In poor communities, diarrhoea caused by bottle-feeding is responsible for acute sickness. The cycle of illness, dehydration and malnutrition weakens the child, often fatally. A study from the Republic of Belarus shows that infants exclusively breastfeeding at three months have 40% less risk of developing gastrointestinal infections.
  • Pneumonia: Worldwide, pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in children under five years of age. A study in Brazil showed that the risk of hospitalization for pneumonia among non-breastfed infants was 17 times greater than that for breastfed infants.

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of asthma and other allergies

  • In Australia, risk of childhood asthma decreases by at least 40% in infants breastfed for four months.
  • A Medline review of twelve studies relating to breastfeeding and asthma points out that exclusive breastfeeding reduced the risk of asthma by 30% and showed still better results (48%) in families with a history of asthma-related illnesses

Breastfeeding improves cognitive, linguistic and motor development

In Denmark a recent study confirmed that breastfeeding affected brain development as measured in the child’s ability to crawl, to grip and to babble in polysyllables: the longer the duration of breastfeeding, the higher the child’s capacities.

Long-term effects of breastfeeding on health

  • Bone mass: In Tanzania, a study demonstrated that there was significant association between breastfeeding in infancy and higher bone mineral density among the eight year-old boys examined, in comparison with children that had not been breastfed (11).
  • Haemophilus influenzae meningitis: In Sweden a study showed that low breastfeeding rates were followed, five to ten years later, by increased meningitis rates.
  • Obesity: In a number of countries (Germany, Czech Republic, the UK, and the USA) research demonstrates that breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity.

Breastfeeding benefits for Mothers

Breastfeeding is an integral part of the reproductive cycle: exclusive breastfeeding, followed at six months by the introduction of appropriate complementary foods. Continued breastfeeding until the age of two years or more brings the reproductive cycle full circle. Studies have shown that there are many women for whom contraception is unavailable, unaffordable or unacceptable. For these women, breastfeeding (according to the LAM criteria mentioned below) is the primary means of delaying pregnancy and spacing births. Moreover, breastfeeding develops emotional and psychological well-being in mothers, and has numerous health advantages.

Breastfeeding helps in spacing children (LAM):

As long as a mother breastfeeds fully or nearly fully and as long as her periods have not returned, her protection against pregnancy during the first six months is 98 %. This family planning method is called the Lactational Amenorrhea Method – LAM.

Breastfeeding results in the reduction of anaemia

In the first hours and days after birth, early breastfeeding brings about uterine contractions, preventing excessive blood loss.
Over the following months, breastfeeding reduces the frequency and severity of anaemia by delaying the return of monthly periods and helping the mother build her iron reserves.

Long-term effects to breastfeeding on mothers’ health

  • Breast cancer: Studies from the US, China, Japan, New Zealand, the UK and Mexico show that women who breastfed their children have reduced risk of developing breast cancer and that the risk declines with increased duration of breastfeeding.
  • Ovarian cancer: Breastfeeding for at least two months per child decreases the mother’s risk of developing epithelial ovarian cancer.
  • Osteoporosis: The risk of hip fracture amongst women over 65 is reduced by half for those who have breastfed. It decreases by another quarter for those who have breastfed each of their children at least nine months.

Breastfeeding benefits for Families

Preparing for the arrival of the new baby, undergoing the birth process, and adapting to the child’s first months are among the most extraordinary, testing, and emotional periods that parents and families’ experience. Loving, caring for, nurturing, but also worrying about one’s child are normal feelings and are sometimes overwhelming. Any illness takes an emotional toll on families; sickness in a newborn baby or a working mother causes even more worry.

Breastfeeding strengthens family ties:

Studies have shown the emotional and psychological importance, as well as the bonding effects of breastfeeding to both mother and child. The importance of bonding is even greater when mothers return to work.
Breastfeeding develops a mother’s confidence in her physical and emotional capacities.

Breastfeeding brings economic benefits and helps to save time:

  • Saving of time because there is no need to go out to buy breast milk substitutes or other goods.
  • Savings on the purchase of breast milk substitutes and other feeding equipment.
  • Less spending on medical care and medication.
  • Less time preparing bottles and cleaning utensils.
  • Less time and worry spent on having to care for illnesses that could often be avoided.

Breastfeeding benefits for Employers

When infants and children are sick, mothers or fathers often stay home to care for them. National laws may allow parents to take holiday leave or to call in sick themselves. This absenteeism is costly to employers and to national healthcare budgets.
Many employed women have only a short period of paid maternity leave. If they want to breastfeed their babies, it is important to set up favourable conditions at the workplace. Many employers provide breastfeeding facilities on-site for their female workers. Adequate hygienic facilities for breastfeeding or expressing and storing breast milk are relatively easy and inexpensive to provide.

  • Breastfeeding reduces staff absenteeism
  • Breastfeeding contributes towards a more stable workforce
  • Employers who support their female employees (maternity benefits, breastfeeding breaks) note improved staff morale, less turnover and increased loyalty.