Before infant formula came along, breastfeeding was routine for all newborns. If a new mother could not produce enough breast milk, a wet nurse was found, since cow’s milk lead to small, sick babies that would not survive childhood. When drug companies created infant formulas, they claimed it was equal to or better than breast milk. Breastfeeding soon became obsolete and unsophisticated.
More recent research of babies and mothers has written a different story. Scientific study of breast milk has revealed substances that cannot be made in a laboratory. We now know that breastfeeding results in much healthier babies than formula feeding. The rates of childhood ear infections, diarrhea, and pneumonia are cut in half. The risks of childhood asthma and diabetes drop by more than a fourth. The risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is lowered by a third, likewise for childhood obesity. Finally the risk of leukemia is reduced by a fifth. On a nationwide scale, breastfeeding babies exclusively for the first 6 months would prevent about a thousand infant deaths.
Breastfeeding helps the mother too. It lowers her risk of diabetes and cancers of the breast and ovary. Breastfeeding also reduces the chance of postpartum depression.
Patients say that breastfeeding is easy, healthy, and natural once you get the hang of it. There are very few reasons not to breastfeed. Your doctor will tell you if you shouldn’t. So let’s get in there and improve our national and personal health, and the health of our babies!
It’s an old solution, but still a good one.
From Paul Locus, MD