Lasting Benefits of Breastfeeding
The first two years of life are the most critical time periods within a child’s life to ensure the infant is receiving all the essentials needed for proper growth, health, and development.
Research has proven breast milk to be a superior source of protein for infants. Breast milk is composed of fats, carbohydrates, protein, vitamins, minerals, water, and contains all the vital nutrients that the infant requires for the first 6 months of life.
The World Health Organization recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for six months (or 111 days) and then begin complementary feeding at six months until the first two years of life or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding is defined as infants receiving breast milk as their only source of nutrition. The infant should not require any other liquids including water or solids.
After the first six months of life, it is recommended a mother introduce complementary feeding – or eating solids -- which is needed because the breast milk is no longer meeting 100 percent of the infants’ needs. Complementary feeding would last from six months to 23 months of age or until weaning, which is when all nutrient needs are provided by foods other than human milk. The importance of breastfeeding – if possible for the mother and child – cannot be underscored. Poor nutrition in these early years of life increases the risk of illness and is responsible either directly or indirectly for approximately one-third of the deaths of children ages 5 or younger.
Debate still persists as to whether infant feeding practices such as breastfeeding are protective against obesity. Nonetheless, the rapid growth of childhood obesity represents a public crisis with far reaching impacts on all health care systems.
Many studies have shown that early dietary habits have an influence on BMI, or Body Mass Index. BMI is the measure of body fat based on height and weight. Studies of the impact of “exclusively breastfeeding,” or EBF, on a child’s body mass index from birth to 5 years support public health efforts to encourage EBF for at least three months and optimally for six months as a way to protect against childhood obesity.
Along with the increase in childhood obesity comes incidences of what is known as co-morbidity or the presence of two or more chronic diseases or conditions in the same patient. As problems are added to a child’s overall health condition, so too comes the increase in the need for additional healthcare services and resulting financial costs. One study in 2012 showed that pediatric patients diagnosed with obesity had $172 higher annual health care costs compared to children with normal body weight.
Significant health problems that may occur in obese children include diabetes, gallbladder disease, and obstructive sleep apnea. In addition, studies show mental health has been significantly impacted in children who are obese.
Children who develop obesity at a young age are likely to maintain their overweight status into adulthood, placing them at higher risk of developing chronic diseases including hypertension, dyslipidemia, type 2 diabetes, heart disease, stroke, gallbladder disease, osteoarthritis, sleep apnea, respiratory problems, and certain cancers.
If possible for mother and baby, breastfeeding is the preferred food source for infants, to foster better health outcomes through childhood and into adulthood.
The Centers for Disease Control’s Division of Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity has issued its 2016 Breastfeeding Report Card. The document highlights breastfeeding rates among infants born in 2013 and indicates 4 out of 5 babies born that year started to breastfeed. More than half the babies born that year were breastfeeding by six months and almost one-third were breastfeeding by 12 months.
“The high breastfeeding initiation rates, or the percentage of infants who start out breastfeeding, show that most mothers in the U.S. want to breastfeed and are trying to do so,” the report notes.
Lompoc Valley Medical Center supports that effort and the ensuing and lasting health benefits. LVMC hosts a Breastfeeding Mothers Support Group from 10 to 11 a.m. every Friday in the hospital board room. For privacy reasons, the session is open only to females and their infants.