More often than not, a newborn's first and most intimate contact is with his/her mother. A mother's role is the most important during the first few years of an infant's life. One of the most important roles that a mother plays is that of providing wholesome nutrition to the baby at the start of his/her life. In addition to providing the best nutrition that a child can get in the first few months, the process of breastfeeding establishes a strong physical and emotional bond between the mother and her child. The benefits of breast milk when compared to even the best infant formulas and other dairy products available in the market have been recognised as superior by most national and international health organisations and paediatricians. WHO (World Health Organisation) urges new mothers to breastfeed their babies exclusively for the first 6 months. This can be attributed to the long list of health and emotional benefits for both, the child and the new mother.
Benefits for the infant
- Human milk consists of two basic components of protein: approximately 60% whey and 40% casein. Due to its high percentage of whey protein, it is easier for infants, with their underdeveloped digestive systems, to digest breast milk. Formula milk does not have such a high concentration of weigh protein. This also helps to lower the risk of obesity in the child in later years.
- Breast milk is rich in antibodies that build a baby's immune system. An adult's system has 5 kinds of antibodies, all of which are found in breast milk, particularly the secretory Immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA wards off disease-causing bacteria, while ignoring the useful ones. A child's immune system develops completely by the age of five, which is why most doctors recommend breastfeeding for as long as the mother is comfortable.
- Tests suggest that breastfed infants have a decreased risk of Sudden Unexpected Death in Infancy (SUDI)
- Colostrum, which is the milk produced at the end of the pregnancy, is rich in fatty acids which helps in the development of the cognitive and nervous system of the baby.
Benefits for the mother
- Breastfeeding is the first bonding step that the mother takes towards the child. The skin-to-skin contact made within an hour after the baby's birth helps establish familiarity. The baby starts taking naturally to the mother's presence as it is the first stimulation that he/she receives. The mother immediately assumes the role of the baby's provider and protector.
- Breastfeeding also helps in the formulation of the female hormone, oxytocin, which leads to the uterus contracting to its pre-pregnancy size.
- A 2009 German study shows that breastfeeding reduces the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer by 24% for the mother.
- A baby's health and nutrition are a mother's biggest concerns for the first few months of his/her life. As breastfeeding ensures healthier babies, it gives lesser cause for worry to a new mother, thus drastically reducing the instances of postpartum depression.