A few years ago I had the pleasure of attending a conference about the “Use of Human Milk and Breastfeeding Education for the Registered Nurse.” The speaker was Diane Spatz, RN PhD, an associate professor at the University of Pennsylvania and a clinical nurse specialist at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. It was a fascinating day, and as usual, I learned a lot. Her most interesting lecture was her first one about the benefits of human milk. I thought I would pass this information along to all of you, as a reminder of the wonderful gift you are giving your baby!
Most women cite infection prevention as their number one reason for breastfeeding. Babies who are breastfeed have decreased incidence and severity of RSV, gastroenteritis, diarrhea, respiratory, ear and urinary tract infections. For premature babies, the benefits are life saving with a decrease in the incidence and severity of meningitis, blood infection, sepsis and necrotizing enterocolitis. ($200,000 is spent of each case of NEC alone!) These babies also have a decreased incidence of retinopathy of prematurity, SIDS, diabetes, and obesity. Their hospital stay is shorter and less expensive than formula fed preemies. Breastfeeding for these compromised babies is truly medicinal.
But do you know why that is? It is due to something called the “Enteromammary Pathway.” This is a maternal response in which anything the mom comes in contact with (microorganisms, food antigens etc.) travels thru her gut and lymphatic system causing antibodies to be produced that are then passed along thru her breast milk to protect her baby. It is for this reason that mothers of preemies are encouraged to touch everything their baby comes into contact with in the NICU. Their exposure to everything their baby is exposed to protects their baby from hospital borne illnesses.
In addition to the infection protection, breast milk has a biological specificity that is exactly what the human newborn needs. The fat content of breast milk accounts for half the calories and it adjusts throughout the feeding and the day. Amazingly, the fat content is 30% higher in mother’s who deliver preterm infants, because those babies need it! The DHA and ARA in breast milk (which have now been artificially added to formulas) enhance the babies’ visual acuity and brain maturation. Some fats are also anti-viral, anti-fungal and anti-bacterial. The lactose in breast milk enhances calcium absorption and is easily broken down to provide a constant nutrient flow to the brain. Other carbohydrates promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the gut and decrease pathogens by increasing the acidity. Protein in breast milk is low in quantity but high in quality and is primarily the easy to digest whey protein. It is also immunologic with proteins that breakdown infectious agents. Lastly, breast milk is full of antibodies, infection fighting white blood cells, hormones, vitamins and minerals that are essential for the general hydration and nutrition of your baby.
But you already knew all that didn’t you? Keep up the good work!