The journal Pediatrics recently released a new study highlighting breast milk’s ability to protect infants from infectious diseases. The authors concluded, “Exclusive breastfeeding until the age of 4 months and partially thereafter was associated with a significant reduction of respiratory and gastrointestinal morbidity in infants. Our findings support health-policy strategies to promote exclusive breastfeeding for at least 4 months, but preferably 6 months, in industrialized countries.”
Dutch researchers analyzed the health of 4,100 babies born in Rotterdam, Netherlands between 2003 and 2006. They found that exclusive breastfeeding during the first four months cut a baby’s risk of respiratory tract infections by over one-third, while breastfeeding for six months cut a baby’s chances by nearly two-thirds. The study also found significant reduction in gastrointestinal illnesses.
Significantly, the study showed no health benefits for infants who received formula along with breast milk, even when partial breastfeeding extended a full six months.
These conclusions support the findings and recommendations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS also links breastfeeding to decreased rates of allergies, asthma, diabetes, leukemia, and obesity. Additionally, HHS presents a number of benefits for mothers, including lower risk of type 2 diabetes, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and postpartum depression.
None of the antibodies found in breast milk are able to be duplicated in manufactured formula, resulting in a significant lack of protection for formula-fed babies against infectious diseases. Formula is unable to match the complexity of breast milk, the consistency of which adapts over the first few months of a baby’s life, changing to fit the baby’s needs as he or she grows.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published a report card on breastfeeding (pdf) in the U.S. for the year 2009. The agency found that 33.1 percent of U.S. mothers exclusively breastfed for the first three months, and only 13.6 percent managed to exclusively breastfeed for the first six months.
Pediatrics recently published a second study on breastfeeding. This study’s authors found that, “The United States incurs $13 billion in excess costs annually and suffers 911 preventable deaths per year because our breastfeeding rates fall far below medical recommendations.”
These studies show that breastfeeding provides infants with a level of protection against harmful diseases that is unmatched by manufactured formulas and support the argument that increasing the percentage of breastfeeding mothers in America will result in a multitude of benefits for children, families, the health care system, and the nation as a whole.
In addition, formula can cost up to $4,000 a year. In the midst of the current economy, breastfeeding may look even more appealing.