February 14, 2010

Prescription for Breast Milk

In last week’s episode of House M.D. there was a man with cancer who came in and wanted a prescription for breast milk. He had researched how breast milk contains cancer fighting compounds and felt like it could cure his cancer. As a breastfeeding mother, I feel like breastfeeding is not as popular and accepted as it should be (and maybe once was). Doctors, nurses, magazines and even TV tend to focus so much on formula and bottle feeding. Every time Clover has had a well visit at her doctor’s office, I have had to make a point to tell them that she was exclusively breast fed (and still nurses twice a day) because they just assumed she was not. Even though they know how much better breastfeeding is, I think they have grown accustom to having patients who aren’t breastfed. I was really encouraged by even the mention of breast milk, and its cancer fighting substances, in the House episode. Not only were they drawing much needed attention to breast milk, but they were also promoting some of the wonderful benefits it has!

I really never thought I would be such a breastfeeding advocate, until I became a mother. When you have a child, there is nothing you won’t do to protect your child. I felt like breast milk versus formula was pretty much a no-brainer. There are an astounding number of reasons why breastfeeding is better for your baby. Breastfeeding alone can reduce the risk of SIDS by 50%! We spend hundreds of dollars childproofing our homes, buying the safest car seats, buying medicine, diaper rash ointment, etc. – all to “protect” our children and help “prevent” bad things from happening. So many people are willing to spend top dollar on ways to protect their children, but cringe at the thought of breastfeeding – the ultimate protection.

Breastfeeding can be hard. Besides doing “wonderful” things to your boobs, it can also be difficult to schedule things around nursing. Sometimes it’s harder to feed your baby in public because you can’t just pull out a bottle and pop it into their mouth. People judge you when you breastfeed, especially for longer then six months (remember how much I like being judged?) It’s harder to have someone else watch your baby. You can’t have your partner help with the feedings in the middle of the night (unless you pump). And sometimes, you end up being a human pacifier when your child needs some extra special attention. But the benefits? Yes, they outweigh the bad by 100%. I will take the nasty “why don’t you just feed her formula so we all don’t have to sit here and watch you nurse her?” remarks because I know I am doing the best thing for my daughter.

In true persuasion form, I will give you a few benefits that you may, or may not know:

1. It strengthens the infant's immune system and provides protection against a variety of diseases and infections, including the common cold, ear infections, diarrhea, bacterial meningitis, and allergies.

2. Breastmilk provides a variety of immunological and psychological benefits to the child, both in the short and long term. These include a decreased risk of childhood cancer in children nursed more than six months, (see? There is a reason I am still nursing my 15 month old!) and a lower risk of conditions such as heart disease, multiple sclerosis, respiratory infection, and juvenile insulin-dependent diabetes.

3. Breastfeeding also provides many health benefits to the mother-including a significantly lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as a decreased risk of osteoporosis in later life.

4. Breastfeeding can protect your baby from developing allergies.

5. Breastfeeding may boost your child's intelligence

6. Breastfeeding may protect against obesity later in life

7. Breastfeeding may protect your baby from childhood leukemia

8. Breastfeeding for more than six months appears to reduce a child's risk of developing insulin-dependent (type 1) diabetes.

9. Breastfeeding helps you shed your baby weight and helps you heal from giving birth.

10. Breastfeeding is good for every part of baby's body--from the brain to the diaper area. Here's a list:

• Brain. Higher IQ in breastfed children. Cholesterol and other types of fat in human milk support the growth of nerve tissue.

• Eyes. Visual acuity is higher in babies fed human milk.

• Ears. Breastfed babies get fewer ear infections.

• Mouth. Less need for orthodontics in children breastfed more than a year. Improved muscle development of face from suckling at the breast. Subtle changes in the taste of human milk prepare babies to accept a variety of solid foods.

• Throat. Children who are breastfed are less likely to require tonsillectomies.

• Respiratory system. Evidence shows that breastfed babies have fewer and less severe upper respiratory infections, less wheezing, less pneumonia and less influenza.

• Heart and circulatory system. Evidence suggests that breastfed children may have lower cholesterol as adults. Heart rates are lower in breastfed infants.

• Digestive system. Less diarrhea, fewer gastrointestinal infections in babies who are breastfeeding. Six months or more of exclusive breastfeeding reduces risk of food allergies. Also, less risk of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis in adulthood.

• Immune system. Breastfed babies respond better to vaccinations. Human milk helps to mature baby's own immune system. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of childhood cancer.

• Endocrine system. Reduced risk of getting diabetes.

• Kidneys. With less salt and less protein, human milk is easier on a baby's kidneys.

• Appendix. Children with acute appendicitis are less likely to have been breastfed.

• Urinary tract. Fewer infections in breastfed infants.

• Joints and muscles. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is less common in children who were breastfed.

• Skin. Less allergic eczema in breastfed infants.

• Growth. Breastfed babies are leaner at one year of age and less likely to be obese later in life.

• Bowels. Less constipation. Stools of breastfed babies have a less-offensive odor.

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