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With each year that passes we learn more about the benefits of breastfeeding and immune system development, the role breastfeeding plays in developing immunity and how bottle feeding cannot measure up! Why does man keep trying to improve on what nature has designed? Natural immunity starts in the womb but is either encouraged or discouraged when the baby is born by how the baby is fed! Nature always knows what is best for the infant even if we do not understand all the details!
Up to the last 15 years, our understanding of immunity was very limited and we are still learning more all the time. A whole new area of medicine was developed in 1993 called, Neuro-Immunology”, because we discovered that the immune system is completely connected to the nervous system and not just a compartment in the body. In 1995, the university text books were rewritten to reflect our new understanding of immunity. In all actuality, we still know very little about the role of immunity in human beings.
Breastfeeding is the Way Mother Nature Intended it to be Done!
Breastfeeding was the only way a child was fed since the beginning of time unless mother died after childbirth or was very sick. In that case, a nurse-maid was called in to nurse the infant and if that was not possible, foods were made into paste so the baby would not die from starvation. Replacement milk like goats or cow’s milk was also used but difficult to give to the infant and still not nutritionally perfect for human beings. Historically, when a baby was not breastfed by mother, the infant mortality rate was very high (50% – 90%) due to lack of balanced nutrition and lack of hygiene. It is a fact that artificial feeding with anything but mother’s milk is more risky for the baby. Babies who are breastfed have higher IQ and are healthier in general. The maternal bond and affection given while the baby is in the arms is also better for the child emotionally. Breastfed babies are usually more content, have fewer health problems and are more secure as young adults.
The First Milk…Colostrum
The first milk produced for the infant is called colostrum. For the first 2-3 days colostrum, a high-potent, clear milk, that contains secretory immunoglobulin that forms a protective layer on your baby’s mucous membranes in the nose, throat and intestines (gut). This will help guard against invading germs and also carries natural immune fighters from mother that will help protect the infant who has an immature immune system. It also encourages the TH1 arm of the immune system, which is the fighting arm of the immune system. The gut is where 75% of the immune system lives and the colostrum help the bacterial flora establish dominance which is very important for a strong immune system. It has been proven that children who have a Th1 dominant immune system are healthier and are better able to fight infections later in life. Th1 cells are the infection fighters, especially intracellular viral infections. This milk is the way to turbo-charge the immune system into action!
High-Potent Breast Milk
At about the third day after the baby is born, mother will start to produce breast milk that is thicker and more satisfying for the baby. The colostrum will still be present for up to 15 days after her milk comes in as well. Along with stimulating Th1 immunity, breast milk goes beyond the best nutrition for your baby and is packed with disease-fighting substances that help protect the baby while it is developing its own immune system.
Studies have proven that breast fed babies have less ear infections, stomach problems and less respiratory illness and recover better than the formula fed baby.
A National Institute of Health Study showed that SIDS is lower in breast fed babies than in babies given formula. Babies can exclusively breast feed for up to a year introducing table foods as the baby shows interest. The “ideal” is long-term breast feeding until the child has a full mouth of teeth so that it can chew and grind foods, the first stage of digestion. This will give the baby the best opportunity to be protected while developing its own immunity. Many medical doctors tell mothers that bottle feeding is just as good as breast feeding even though that is just not true. Bottle feeding will never take the place of breast milk because mother’s milk is changing daily to meet the needs of the baby.
If You Must Bottle Feed
Some women are not able to breast feed, sometimes it is a hormonal dysfunction, emotional reason, financial reasons where single mothers must work or some mothers just do not feel the maternal desire. Some social circles regard it as sexual and dirty or just too demanding on the mother! Artificial feeding became popular as women began to work outside the home. During WW11, only 20-30% of infants were breastfed. During the beginning of the 19th century, a social stigma was also common that made breast feeding unpopular and commercialization of formulas helped to usher in bottle feeding. Doctors help to promote bottle feeding and gave mothers free formula in the hospitals. In the beginning, cow’s milk was used in formulas with added ingredients but it did not meet the nutritional needs of the baby. It took many years to figure out what a baby’s first nutritional needs are and even to date, formulas fall short compared to breastfeeding. A huge disadvantage is that the immune system is not stimulated in the same way as when a baby is given breast milk.
Breast is Best!
Unfortunately for the babies, most American women chose to bottle feed. There are many reasons why but it is mostly because of the maternal attitudes, modern living standards and doctors promoting bottle feeding. If a mother puts the health of her baby first, is dedicated to helping her child develop a strong immune system, provide the best nutrition for the baby, she must consider breast feeding for at least the first year. There is nothing that can take the place of breast milk. Even a working mother can breast feed by pumping milk prior to working. It is more challenging for working mothers to breast feed but the benefits for the child are worth the added effort.