In our latest episode with Danica Mckellar, I had the opportunity to share a bit about the magic of breastfeeding from my own personal perspective. I’d like to use the space here to dive into the empirical evidence supporting the powerful role breastfeeding plays in the health of the mother and child!
Let’s begin by looking at the nutritional components of breast milk. Breast milk is chock full of healthy fats, protein, and sugar in the form of lactose. These macronutrients help to regulate molecular activity and provide important building blocks for growth and development. Breast milk is also high in vitamins A, B1, B2, B6, B12, D, and iodine, although levels may vary based on the mother’s dietary intake (Ballard & Morrow, 2013).
Next, let’s look at the various growth factors found in high concentrations in a mother’s breast milk. Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF; important for the growth and repair of blood vessels), nerve growth factor (NGF; important neuronal growth and development), and Insulin-like growth factor (IGF; important for metabolic regulation and production of red blood cells) are just a few of the important molecular components of breast milk (Ballard & Morrow, 2013; Colen & Ramey, 2014).
From an immunological perspective breastfeeding is one of the most important things a mother can do to protect her child from illness. Breast milk contains antibodies, immunoglobulins, and other supporting cells, designed to give the infant a jumpstart to their immune system. If this wasn’t enough, breast milk also contains antimicrobial agents to defend against bad bacteria (Office of the Surgeon General, 2011; Slusser & Powers, 1997).
While it is easy for me to espouse these benefits on a theoretical basis, let's examine what the data actually shows in terms of infant and mother health outcomes.
The Cleveland Clinic found that infants who breastfed had:
- less digestive issues
- less occurrence of bacterial and viral infections
- Significantly reduced mortality rates.
These positive health effects did not stop after infancy. In fact, children who breastfed had:
- stronger immune systems
- fewer dental/orthodontic issues
- lower obesity rates
- lower rates of autoimmune diseases
How about the mothers? Well, mothers who breastfed their children had:
- Increased weight loss
- Less postpartum bleeding
- Fewer UTIs
- Lower risk for postpartum depression
As you can see, there is a lot of strong scientific evidence to back up the important role breastfeeding has on the health and wellness of a new mother and child.