Breastfeeding is the best way for babies acquiring best nutrition. Besides, breastfeeding has numerous advantages and affects several physiological mechanisms or systems. Its advantages are not only short-term effects, but also effects in long-term of baby’s life. These health benefits exhibits dose-response relationship, for an instance longer duration of breastfeeding is associated with greater degrees of benefit. The WHO (2002) had recommended optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding is 6 months. According to Kramer and Kakuma (2002), it is based on a systematic review of studies from developed and developing countries comparing growth, development, morbidity, and mortality of infants with different durations of breastfeeding. In this particular posting, I try to share the information with you about long-term effects of breastfeeding. It is not only for baby, but also for mother. Here are the long-term effects of breastfeeding:
- A meta-analysis including studies of children between 6 months and 15 years reported an overall effect of 3.2 IQ points after controlling for potential confounders (Anderson et al, 1999).
- The effect was stronger in premature babies.
- It was a significant dose-response relationship with the duration of BF and the effects seemed to be independent of the age at which the outcome was measured.
- One study conducted by Mortensen, et al. (2002) has suggested that this effect persists into later life since a positive association between duration of BF and intelligence in a group of men (mean age 18.7) and in another group of both women and men (mean age 27.2) was found. Different IQ tests were, used for the two groups.
- Positive effects of breastfeeding on mental function is caused by the higher level of long chain poly-unsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFA) especially the n-3 fatty acid docosahexaenoic acid (DHA.) in breast milk compared to infant formula, DHA accumulates in neural membranes during infancy.
- Breast-fed babies generally exhibit a different growth pattern to that of formula-fed babies.
- The weight gain of breastfed infant is lower and, in some studies, the length gain is also affected.
- Breast-fed babies are generally leaner then formula-fed babies by 12 months of age.
- There are no known an adverse consequences related to the slower growth in breast-fed infants.
Immune System and Its Disorders
- Breast milk contains many immune factors, which give the baby passive protection against infections. Those immune related factors in breast milk are leucocytes including B and T lymphocytes, macrophages, neutrophiles, secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA), cytokines, bifidus factor, lyzosyme, oligosaccharides, and lactoferrin (Heinig & Dewey, 1996; Hanson et al., 2003).
- Breastfeeding also stimulates the infant’s own immune system: the thymic gland is larger in breast-fed infants (Hasselbalch et al., 1996), SIgA concentration in urine is higher in BF infants (Goldblum et al., 1996) who also respond with higher levels of antibodies after certain vaccines (Hahn-Zoric et al., 1990). It seems that this stimulation has long-term effects.
- The incidence of infections is lower in breast-fed infants compared to formula-fed infants. BF provides the most significant protection against gastrointestinal infections, respiratory infection, urinary tract infection and otitis media.
- The effect of breastfeeding on the development of allergy is commonly regarded as one of its most significant advantages, it protects against cow’s milk allergy.
- Breastfeeding was also reported to reduce the incidence of wheezing and asthma by 30%, in case of family history for allergy the effect was stronger.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of coeliac disease if gluten-containing foods are introduced gradually into the diet of infants while they are still being breast-fed (Ivarsson, et al., 2002). Coeliac disease, or permanent gluten-sensitive enteropathy, is an immunologic disease dependent on exposure to gluten.
- Breastfeeding is also reported providing protection against multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn’s disease and colitis ulcerosa.
Type-1 Diabetes Mellitus
- Type 1-diabetes mellitus (DM) is caused by both genetic and environmental factors.
- A number of studies have shown a protective effect of breastfeeding, whereas introduction of formula milk and complementary food seems to increase the risk (Davis, 2001).
- In a multi centre study, breastfeeding was reported to reduce the risk of DM by 40% relative to baby never being breastfeeding after adjusting for growth pattern (EURODIAB Group, 2002).
- Long Chain Polyunsaturated Fatty Acid (LCPUFA) present in breast milk improves the resistance of the pancreas beta-cells (Das, 2003).
Breastfeeding was associated with lower systolic blood pressure in later life.
- Studies suggest that breastfeeding is associated with a small decrease in the risk for childhood leukemia (Kwan et al., 2004) and other childhood cancer forms (UK CCS Investigators, 2001).
- The protective effect of breastfeeding seems similar for all cancer forms.
Protection against breast cancer is the most significant effect of breastfeeding on maternal health. A meta-analysis showed that the relative risk of breast cancer decreased by 4.3% for every 12 month of breastfeeding, in addition to a decrease of 7% for each birth (Collaborative Group, 2002).
Hopefully, this post about long-term beneficial effects of breastfeeding will give you brighter insight about the excellence of breastfeeding neither for baby or for mother.