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Mothers should be encouraged to nurse
Health advice
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Good gravy, supermodel Gisele Bündchen really created a stir recently when she said she thought “There should be a worldwide law that mothers should breastfeed their babies for six months.” She later said, “My intention in making a comment about the importance of breastfeeding has nothing to do with the law. It comes from my passion and beliefs about children. Becoming a new mom has brought a lot of questions. I feel like I am in a constant search for answers on what might be the best for my child.”
Gisele took a lot of heat for her statement, but the truth is, breastfeeding really is best for your baby. It is unfortunate that some mothers are unable to breastfeed their infants because there are multiple benefits for the baby and the mother. In addition, breastfeeding is easier because you don’t have to mix formula, sterilize bottles and deal with sickly babies.
Human milk provides all the protein, sugar, fat and vitamins a baby needs to be healthy. It has special benefits formulas cannot match. Breast milk contains at least 100 other ingredients not found in formula. Those ingredients provide just the right amount of fatty acids, lactose, water and amino acids for human digestion, brain development and growth.
Breastfed babies are never allergic to their mother’s milk, although they may have reactions to foods eaten by her. When these items are eliminated from a mom’s diet, the problem resolves itself. A breastfed baby’s digestive tract contains large amounts of lactobacillus bifidus, a beneficial bacterium that prevents the growth of harmful organisms. They also have fewer illnesses because breast milk transfers the mother’s antibodies against disease to her baby.
Approximately 80 percent of cells in breast milk are macrophages — cells that kill bacteria, fungi and viruses. Breast-fed babies are protected, in varying degrees, from illnesses, including pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections and German measles. In addition, mothers produce antibodies to whatever disease is present in their environment, making their milk custom-designed to fight the diseases their babies are exposed to.
Studies show that babies who were exclusively breastfed during their first three months of life have a 34 percent lower risk of developing diabetes than those who were not breastfed. Research also suggests breastfeeding may help to protect against sudden infant death syndrome, Hodgkin’s disease, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, asthma and Crohns disease, as well as other health problems.
Because of the protective substances in human milk, breastfed infants also are less likely to suffer from the following:
• Allergies
• Vomiting
• Diarrhea
• Meningitis
The act of breastfeeding promotes good jaw development and encourages the growth of straight, healthy teeth. Breastfed babies also can control the flow of milk by sucking and stopping. With a bottle, a baby must constantly suck or react to the pressure of the bottle nipple in his or her mouth.
The psychological benefits of breastfeeding are equally important. Breastfeeding provides physical contact, warmth and closeness, which help to create a special bond between a mother and her baby. Many psychologists believe nursing babies enjoy a heightened sense of security from the warmth and presence of their mother. Parents of bottle-fed babies may be tempted to prop bottles in the baby’s mouth and offer no human contact during feeding. But a nursing mother must cuddle her infant closely many times during the day. Nursing becomes more than a way to feed a baby; it’s a source of warmth and comfort.
Breastfeeding is good for new moms, too. Nursing uses up extra calories, which helps women lose extra pregnancy pounds. In addition, lactation stimulates the uterus to contract back to its original size, creating a slimmer abdomen. Other health benefits for the mother include:
• Reduced risk of ovarian cancer and, in pre-menopausal women, breast cancer.
• Increased bone strength to protect against bone fractures in older age.
• Delayed return of the menstrual cycle, which may help extend the time between pregnancies. (Keep in mind that breastfeeding alone will not prevent pregnancy.)
• Helps the uterus return to its regular size more quickly.
Breastfeeding mothers should understand, however, that:
• Any medications they take may enter the breast milk and affect the baby (check with your physician or lactation consultant about what is safe)
• They must maintain adequate nutrition.
• Breastfeeding moms should drink plenty of fluids, especially water, every day.
• They need to get plenty of rest.
• Nursing mothers need to relax and enjoy the experience.
Breastfeeding moms especially should avoid smoking. Nicotine can cause vomiting, diarrhea and restlessness in a baby. It also decreases a mother’s milk production. Maternal smoking or passive smoke may increase the risk of sudden infant death syndrome and may increase respiratory and ear infections.
Women interested in breastfeeding also should know some viruses can pass through breast milk, and HIV is one of them. Women who are HIV positive should not breastfeed. A few other illnesses — such as herpes, hepatitis and beta streptococcus infections — also can be transmitted through breast milk. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean women shouldn’t breastfeed if they have one of those diseases. It does mean, however, they should discuss the situation with a physician.

Ratcliffe is a consultant to the Coastal Health District. You can call her at 876-6399.
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