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Seven Reasons to Breastfeed Your Child That You Need to Know

By Dr. Joseph Mercola - with Rachael Droege

Although breastfeeding has become increasingly accepted in recent years, there is still much controversy over breastfeeding in America. Issues range from how long one should breastfeed to where it is acceptable to do. But one issue that needs no further debate is whether it is healthier to breastfeed or formula-feed your baby--overwhelmingly, the answer is breastfeed! What’s more is that breastfeeding is not only good for the baby--it’s good for mom too.

Breastfeeding Builds Your Baby’s Immune System

Newborns are still developing and do not have a mature immune system to protect them from illness. Antibodies, or immune molecules, in a mother’s breast milk are transferred to the baby, giving them immunities to illnesses that the mother is immune to. The converse is also true--if your newborn is exposed to a germ, she will transfer it back to the mother while nursing. The mother’s body will then make antibodies to that particular germ and transfer them back to the baby at the next feeding.

Studies have also shown that babies who are breastfed exclusively have better functioning immune systems in the long-term as well.

Formula-fed babies do not get the same immune boost and have higher rates of:

  • Middle ear infections

  • Pneumonia

  • Gastroenteritis (stomach flu)

  • Urinary tract infections

  • Necrotizing enterocolitis, a digestive tract disorder that is a leading killer of premature infants

Breastfed infants, on the other hand, have added protection against:

  • Heart disease

  • Immune system cancers such as lymphoma

  • Bowel diseases such as Crohn's disease

  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis

  • Asthma and allergies

  • Respiratory infections

  • Eczema

  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes

Breastfeeding Improves Baby’s Brain Function

The nutritional properties of breast milk are not only good for the newborn’s immune system, they are also good for the brain. Breastfed infants tend to have higher intelligence than formula-fed infants. This may be due to certain compounds found in breast milk, including omega-3 fatty acids1.

For instance, one study2 found that the verbal IQ of 7- and 8-year-old children who had been breastfed was about 10 points higher than those who were not. Another 18-year study of over 1,000 children found that those who were breastfed had higher intelligence and greater academic achievement than children who were formula-fed as babies.

It is interesting to note that babies who are breastfed naturally spend more time in what is known as the “quiet alert” state, which is not only soothing for parents but also it is the state most conducive to the newborn’s learning.

Breastfeeding Reduces Obesity

Breast milk contains a protein that could reduce the risk of obesity later in life. In fact, the longer a child is breastfed, the lower their risk of obesity, according to a study by U.S. researchers3. The protein affects the body's processing of fat.

Breastfeeding Helps Babies Emotionally

Babies have an intense need to be held and one of the most comforting things for a newborn is the physical act of nursing. Leaving a baby alone with a bottle is not emotionally satisfying to the child and does not make them feel safe or secure.

Breastfeeding also promotes bonding between mother and baby in a way that bottle-feeding cannot. Most women naturally feel a strong desire to hold their baby and there are physical and emotional reasons for this. Breastfeeding ensures that mother and baby have some intimate time together and actually stimulates the mother’s release of the oxytocin hormone, which is known to promote maternal behaviour.

Reduces Mom’s Risk of Cancer and Other Health Conditions

Breastfeeding is a mutually beneficial experience in that it helps both mother and child. Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers and osteoporosis later in life.

Moms Return to Pre-Pregnancy Weight Faster

Breastfeeding women lose weight faster than those who do not. This is because producing milk and breastfeeding requires about 500 calories per day. This is the equivalent of jogging about five miles! Breastfeeding also stimulates contractions in the uterus that help it to shrink back to its normal, pre-pregnancy size faster. It also helps to reduce lower body fat.

Save Time and Money

Surely your primary reason for wanting to breastfeed is to help your baby physically and emotionally, but the more material advantages of breastfeeding are hard to ignore. If you breastfeed you don’t have to prepare bottles and formula--breast milk is always fresh and ready to go. This will save you a substantial amount of time at a period in your life when you will need it!

Breastfeeding also saves you the expense of buying formula, which typically costs at least $800 per year. The savings continue to accumulate as your child grows, as breastfed babies tend to have fewer doctor’s visits and lower overall medical expenses. One study even found that a group of formula-fed babies had over $68,000 in health care costs for six months, compared to only $4,000 for the breastfed group.

What to do if You Can’t Breastfeed

If you still think that formula is a suitable alternative to breast milk, consider that there are at least 400 nutrients in breast milk that are not found in formula. That said, I understand that there are certain conditions and circumstances that may prevent you from being able to breastfeed. If this is the case, you can make a healthy infant formula4 using raw milk.

Breast milk is always the best choice though, so if it’s at all possible I encourage you to breastfeed your child. The longer you do this, the better, but even a short time of breastfeeding is better than none at all!

1Cod Liver Oil May Make Children Smarter

Pregnant and breast-feeding women who add cod liver oil to their diets may improve their children’s intelligence, according to an ongoing study.

The study involved 300 women who were given either cod liver oil or corn oil supplements. The women took the supplements daily from the 18th week of pregnancy until their child was 3 months old. The supplementation was the only nutritional difference among the mothers’ diets.

When the children reached 4 years of age they were given intelligence tests to gauge problem solving and information processing ability. Children with mothers who took cod liver oil scored higher than the other children, according to the test results of 84 children.

Researchers will test the children again when they reach 7 years of age to further confirm findings; however the study results indicate that supplementing pregnant and lactating women with cod liver oil supplements may increase their children’s intelligence.

DHA, an omega-3 fatty acid found in cod liver oil, plays an important role in the development of the central nervous system. It is thought that this fatty acid may be particularly valuable to the developing child during the third trimester of pregnancy and in the first three months of life, as the brain undergoes growth spurts during these times.

Although pregnant women are generally told to avoid supplements and medication during pregnancy, researchers say that no negative effects are associated with the use of cod liver oil.

The study findings are in line with other recent research indicating that breast-fed infants tend to have higher intelligence than formula-fed infants. This may be due to certain compounds found in breast milk, including omega-3 fatty acids.

Paediatrics Online January 2003;111:e39-e44

2More Proof That Breastfeeding Improves Long Term Brain Function

Further reinforcing the previously reported beneficial effects of breast milk on brain functions such as intelligence (IQ), a new study has found that children, aged 7-8 years, who were breastfed had significantly higher verbal and performance IQ scores than those who were not.

  • Researchers studied 280 seven to eight year old children who had been born at very low birth weights.

  • The children were assessed on measures of verbal and performance intelligence quotient (IQ) and mothers were questioned as to whether they had chosen to provide expressed breast milk at birth and the total duration of breastfeeding.

  • Approximately 73% of mothers provided expressed breast milk and 37% breast fed for four months or longer.

  • Increasing duration of breast milk feeding was associated with increases in both verbal IQ and performance IQ.

  • Children breast fed for eight months or longer had average verbal IQ scores that were 10.2 points higher and performance IQ scores that were 6.2 points higher than those who did not receive breast milk.

"These findings add to a growing body of evidence to suggest that breast milk feeding may have small long term benefits for child cognitive development," the authors conclude.

Archives of Diseases of Childhood Foetal and Neonatal Edition, January 2001; 84: F23-F27

3Breast milk helps reduce obesity

A protein in breast milk could reduce the risk of obesity

Breast milk contains a protein that could reduce the risk of obesity, according to US research.

A team at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Centre found high levels of a protein, which affects the body's processing of fat.

They believe its presence in breast milk could influence a person's "fatness" later in life.

The findings were presented at the annual meeting of the Paediatric Academic Societies in San Francisco.

Researchers say this is the first step in understanding the relationship between breast milk and metabolism.

Dr Lisa Martin and colleagues found high levels of the protein adiponectin.

Fat regulation

Adiponectin is secreted by fat cells and affects how the body processes sugars and fatty substances in the blood.

Low levels of this protein have been linked to obesity, type 2 diabetes, insulin resistance and coronary artery disease.

However high levels of adiponectin have been linked to lower rates of disease.

Dr Martin said: "Exposures early in life, during the period of extreme growth and development, may have an impact on adult disease."

They also discovered the presence of another protein in breast milk, called leptin, which also helps to regulate body fat.

However the levels of adiponectin were more significant than leptin.

But Dr Martin added it is still yet to be seen whether adiponectin has any 'biological significance'.

Not surprising

Dr Ian Campbell, Chair of the National Obesity Forum told BBC News Online: "We know there is a clear link between breast feeding and a reduced risk of obesity, but we are not sure why."

He said the risk appears to be lowered further the longer a child is breast-fed.

"There is an accumulative effect, the longer they are breast-fed the better it is.

Dr Campbell added that breast feeding also enhances immunity.

Rosemary Dodds, policy research officer for the National Childbirth Trust, told BBC News Online: "This study is interesting because it looks at the mechanism behind why breast-feeding may reduce the risk of obesity."

She said although the Trust is keen to promote breast-feeding, the decision is a very personal one.

"We support women to make a decision that's best for them" she said.

4Infant Formula Fortification Protocol

A mother's breast milk is nature's perfect and complete food for babies and can't even come close to being reproduced. With so many substances known to be present in breast milk, but unable to be replicated in breast milk substitutes (formula), plus all of the as-yet unidentified constituents, it should come as no great surprise that children today are suffering from a vast myriad of illnesses and disorders.

The human brain is infinitely more sophisticated than the world's fastest computer, yet many people naively think that this wondrous organ can be perfectly constructed without any regard to the "raw materials" required. Building a properly functioning brain requires the right materials, just as building a computer would. Imagine trying to build a computer from scratch, without any microchips. Or trying to build a house without any lumber, bricks, steel, or other materials.

However, while there is no way to create a formula equal to breast milk, there are steps that can be taken to improve somewhat upon the standard formulas that are available.

One of the nutritional areas that are woefully inadequate with formulas is in regards to their fatty acid content. With all of the anti-fat propaganda going on these days, most people don't realize the critical importance of fat, especially with infants. Not only is the quantity important, but the quality and breakdown of the types of fat supplied as well.

After all, the brain is 60% lipid (fat). Of this fat, approximately 12 % is arachidonic acid (AA) and 17% is docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Many people have heard about the benefits and importance of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA, found primarily in fish.

The importance of DHA in the infants' diet recently prompted many countries (not including the US) to allow formula producers to fortify their products with DHA, as well as AA. Currently, DHA/AA enhanced formulas are available, although not mandatory, throughout most of Europe.

Unfortunately, this small step still does not provide infants the nutrients they desperately require, due to several problems.

First of all, the DHA added to the formulas, obtained from micro algae, is highly oxidized (approximately 30%).

Additionally, DHA and AA are not the sole fat constituents of breast milk. Fortifying with them is a step in the right direction, but still leaves out plenty of important substances.

In an effort to help people provide their infants with the best possible nutrition, we often instruct mothers to "create" fortified formulas. But of course we insist that mothers breastfeed if at all possible or even obtain fresh breast milk from a lactating friend or relative, if they have adopted a baby, or can't breastfeed for some reason.

For the infant to remain as healthy as possible, he must obtain a proper balance of all the essential fats, which is difficult to impossible, especially when you are changing mother nature and trying to create a formula.

However, below is a basic fat fortification protocol, which attempts to come as close as possible to "the real thing":

  • Carlson's Cod Liver Oil - one cc per ten pounds of body weight

  • Organic egg yolk - 1 yolk daily added at four months of age

  • Organic cream ideally non-pasteurized and non-homogenized

  • Omega Nutrition pure sesame, walnut, safflower, sunflower, oils (rotate with above) - 1 teaspoon daily

  • One teaspoon high quality coconut oil. This oil needs to be heated to 76 degrees to become a liquid.

Supplemental oils like fish oils can't be added to bottles because they will adhere to the sides, so it is necessary to administer directly into the mouth. But base oils as safflower, sunflower and sesame can be blended into the formula.

It is important, if not breastfeeding, to use one of the commercially available formulas as a "base" from which to fortify the infant's diet. Although some people might be tempted to create their own homemade formula, I don't recommend this approach, as it is just too dangerous that something could be inadvertently left out or added in too great a quantity. A mistake could cost an infant his life.

Nutramagen or Alimentum can be used as a base infant formula and 'doctored up' with nutritional perks. Both of these formulas are acceptable in regard to the 'allergic' aspect, and are the ones usually used when children cannot tolerate anything. Of course, they are also the most expensive.

Makes about 35 ounces

This stopgap formula can be used in emergencies, or when the ingredients for homemade formula are unavailable.

1 cup Mead Johnson low-iron, milk-based powdered formula, Nutramigen or Alimentum are best and better tolerated but are more expensive
29 ounces filtered water (3 5/8 cups)
1 large egg yolk from an organic egg uncooked. Do not give to infant unless older than four months of age
1 teaspoon cod liver oil

Place all ingredients in a blender or food processor and blend thoroughly. Place 6-8 ounces in a very clean glass bottle. (Store the rest in a very clean glass jar in the refrigerator for the next feedings.) Attach a clean nipple to the bottle and set in a pan of simmering water until formula is warm but not hot to the touch, shake well and feed to baby. (Never heat formula in a microwave oven!)

If your baby is premature, one additional area of fortification is in the area of free amino acids, most notably taurine. This nutrient is also critical for infant development and is found in human milk but not in cow's milk. Although many formulas add some taurine, it has been shown that formula-fed infants have lower levels of taurine in their blood than breastfed infants do, even when the formula is has added taurine.

Contrary to the advice given by some, soy milk, almond milk, or carrot juice, even if organic and homemade, are most definitely NOT ACCEPTABLE SUBSTITUTES FOR BREASTMILK, or even for formula.

For those mothers who are breastfeeding, it is important to realize that the essential fatty acid content of her breast milk coincides with what she eats. Therefore, her diet is very important for the health of her baby. One of the most important things that a breastfed mother can do is to avoid foods containing trans fats, such as margarine and anything with hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated oils.

While one can't guarantee that taking the steps outlined above will completely eliminate problems such as ADD/ADHD and other behavioural problems, developmental problems, autism, visual difficulties, and others, I believe that it is a strong possibility that it could help to reduce their incidence, although it is important to always remember that BREAST IS BEST.

PLEASE recognize that soy formula is an unmitigated disaster for infants and should never be used.
It is high in:

  • manganese

  • aluminium

  • phytoestrogens that will harm your baby

For more information please read the links below.

Alternatively a raw milk formula can be made:

MILK-BASED FORMULA From Weston Price Foundation
Makes 36 ounces

Our milk-based formula takes account of the fact that human milk is richer in whey, lactose, vitamin C, niacin, and long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids compared to cow’s milk but leaner in casein (milk protein). Use only truly expeller-expressed oils in the formula recipes, otherwise they may lack vitamin E.

The ideal milk for baby, if he cannot be breastfed, is clean, whole raw milk from goats. If goats are not available, them milk from cows certified free of disease, that feed on green pasture would be a second best choice.

If the only choice available to you is commercial milk, choose whole milk, preferably organic and unhomogenised, and culture it with a piima to restore enzymes.

2 cups whole milk, raw (non-pasteurized) milk from pasture-fed cows
1/4 cup homemade liquid whey
4 tablespoons lactose (available from The Apothecary 301-530-1112)
1 teaspoon bifidobacterium infantis
2 or more tablespoons good quality cream raw (non-pasteurized), more if you are using milk from Holstein cows
1 teaspoon cod liver oil
1 teaspoon expeller-expressed sunflower oil
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil
2 teaspoons coconut oil
2 teaspoons Frontier brand nutritional yeast flakes
2 teaspoons gelatine
1 7/8 cups filtered water
1/4 teaspoon acerola powder

Add gelatine to water and heat gently until gelatine is dissolved. Place all ingredients in a very clean glass or stainless steel container and mix well. To serve, pour 6 to 8 ounces into a very clean glass bottle, attach nipple and set in a pan of simmering water. Heat until warm but not hot to the touch, shake bottle well and feed baby. (Never, never heat formula in a microwave oven!) Note: If you are using the Lact-Aid, mix all ingredients well in a blender.)

Variation: Goat Milk Formula

Although goat milk is rich in fat, it must be used with caution in infant feeding as it lacks folic acid and is low in vitamin B12, both of which are essential to the growth and development of the infant. Inclusion of nutritional yeast to provide folic acid is essential. To compensate for low levels of vitamin B12, add 2 teaspoons frozen organic raw chicken liver, finely grated to the batch of formula. Be sure to begin egg-yolk feeding at four months.

You may find more information on this subject in the Booklet entitled "Breast Cancer No.1", "Breast Cancer No.2", "Women - Listen Up No.1" and the Booklet "Women Listen Up No.2"  and the eye-opening DVD "Women and Hormones"