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Benefits Of Breastfeeding

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As we know, studies have shown that the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby are extensive, and include immediate benefits, longer term benefits, as well as psychological benefits and helping to establish a close bond. New research about further potential health benefits is continually coming to light. (UNICEF 2013)

In talking to women antenatally about breastfeeding, it makes sense to link discussion with that of the birth. Optimal cord clamping, although recognised for many years as being beneficial to baby (Mercer 2001, RCOG 2009, Weeks 2013) and incorporated into WHO Guidance (WHO 2012), is not yet a normal part of care everywhere (NICE 2014). Optimal cord clamping arguably will not only benefit baby, but will also facilitate skin to skin and biological nurturing (Colson 2010) in the first moments after birth, which are then more likely to continue, once established and will inevitably impact upon the quality of the initiation of breastfeeding (Aghdas 2014). We know that breastfeeding initiation rates in the UK are relatively high, at 81% (HSCIC 2012), but that the drop-off rate is also high (55% of babies having any breastmilk at all at 6 weeks) (HSCIC 2012). A focus on this area of discussion with parents, and care at the time of birth would arguably be reflected in future surveys by an improvement in breastfeeding rates at a week and six weeks old.

The protection of normal physiology at the time of birth and afterwards (*link to first hour of birth page) (Fahy et al 2008 and Anderson 2002) will also keep birth, mothers, and babies physically and emotionally safe, and empowered. The suckling of the baby at the breast immediately after birth encourages the release of oxytocin (Phillips 2013), sending the signal to ensure the effective contraction of the ‘living ligature’ of the uterus, to control bleeding, and the release of milk at the breast. The skin to skin contact promotes wellbeing on many levels, including the seeding of the baby’s microbiome. (Sheer 2014, Tritten 2014)

Studies have shown that benefits of breastfeeding for mothers include:

  • A lower risk of ovarian and uterine cancer
  • A lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer
  • Increase in bone strength, resulting in fewer fractures and reduced risk of osteoporosis in later life
  • A decrease in the risk of Type II diabetes in the long term
  • Less postnatal anxiety (both because of calming effect of pro-lactin on the Mother, but also because baby is less likely to be unwell) and potentially less postnatal depression
  • Mobilisation of fat stores means that breastfeeding mothers are more likely to return more easily to their pre-pregnancy weight, and to have a more balanced regulation of blood sugar levels, meaning a potential lower risk of heart disease in later life
  • Theoretical reduction of risk of rheumatoid arthritis

 

Benefits to baby

As with a mother, there are both immediate and longer term benefits to breastfeeding for baby too.

As breastmilk is a living substance, it is continually and specifically suited to the mother-baby dyad. It cannot be replicated, and develops along with baby.

In the immediate moments after birth, early colostrum is needed as the ‘liquid gold’ that will give baby exactly what he needs in that time of adjustment to life ex-utero. It also forms a crucial part of the new baby’s gut development, and developing neurones. Breastfed babies consequently may have better neurological development, as well as better cholesterol levels and blood pressure than artificially fed babies.

Babies who are not fed breast milk are more prone to:

  • gastro-intestinal infection
  • respiratory infections
  • necrotising enterocolitis and late onset sepsis in preterm babies
  • urinary tract infections
  • ear infections
  • allergic disease (eczema, asthma and wheezing)
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Childhood leukaemia
  • SIDS

 

References
Aghdas et al. (2014) “Effect of immediate and continuous mother–infant skin-to-skin contact on breastfeeding self-efficacy of primiparous women: A randomised control trial” Women and Birth: Journal of the Australian College of Midwives. March.Volume 27, Issue 1, Pages 37–40
Anderson, T (2002) “Out of the laboratory, back to the darkened room” MIDIRS Midwifery Digest. Vol 12, no 1.pp 65 - 69
Colson S (2010). What happens to breastfeeding when mothers lie back? Clinical applications of biological nurturing. Clinical Lactation
Fahy et al. (2008) “Birth Territory and Midwifery Guardianship” Books for midwives press.
HSCIC (Health and social care information centre) (2012) “Infant Feeding survey 2010” IFF Research.
Mercer J (2001) Current best evidence: a review of the literature on umbilical cord clamping. J Midwifery Womens Health Nov-Dec;46(6):402-14
NICE (2014) “Intrapartum Care” National Collaborating centre for women’s and children’s health.
Phillips R (2013). The sacred hour: uninterrupted skin-to-skin contact immediately after birth. Newborn & Infant Nursing Reviews 13(2):67-72
 Steer PJ (2014). Further research is needed. International Journal of Birth and Parent Education 2(2):39
Tritten J (2014). Homebirth and the microbiome. Midwifery Today (110):5
Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists (UK) 2009 Opinion Paper, Clamping of the Umbilical Cord and Placental Transfusion. Accessed April 2015 at http://www.rcog.org.uk/clamping-umbilical-cord-and-placental-transfusion