Breast is Best: Why Breastfeeding is an Integral Part of Childcare and Development

January 28, 2009 by Rebecca King  
Published in Motherhood

About the benefits of breastfeeding.

From the first moment we discussed having children a few years ago, my husband and I have been in a breastfeeding battle. When the time came for us to be parents, I really wanted to breastfeed our children and my husband was strongly opposed to the idea. Prior to this course, my only argument was that breastfeeding created a closer bond between mother and child and my husband’s argument was that he did not want my breasts to become saggy. After reading Katherine Dettwyler’s Dancing Skeletons: Live and Death in West Africa, I learned there are many more benefits of breastfeeding than I realized and I felt I had received the fuel needed to give myself the upper-hand in our ongoing battle. Because breastfeeding is extremely healthy for the child, I wanted to know more about the benefits and/or consequences of the decision and also what influences the decision to breastfeed. How do race, religion, employment, education, self-confidence, and/or a woman’s social influences affect the decision to breastfeed?

When making the decision to breastfeed, the World Breastfeeding Week Celebration of 2000’s slogan states simply “Breast is Best” (Forste et al, 2). In addition to the bond between mother and child created during the feeding process, there are a number of benefits of breast milk as opposed to formulas. Breast milk changes its consistency to provide for a growing infant’s needs. During the first 2-3 days after delivery, the breasts produce colustrum, rich in protein, which enables the newborn to properly develop its digestive system (Chescheir et al, 216). It has also been found that some newborns’ digestive systems cannot handle the proteins in cow’s milk unless it has already been processed because they lack the enzyme necessary to digest the protein (lactase deficiency) (Gallagher, 1).

For the next 3-6 days, the breasts produce transitional milk–mature breast milk plus extra protein (Fackler, 1). The remainder of the milk produced is mature breast milk, which contains the right proportions of nutritional needs: “50% fat calories, 45% carbohydrate calories and 5% protein calories. Most of the carbohydrate is milk sugar (lactose), which helps babies absorb calcium,” an essential ingredient in proper bone growth (Fackler, 1). In addition, the mother’s milk is particularly helpful for the “rapid growth of the brain during the first few years of life” (Dettwyler, 79). These nutritional benefits of breast milk are not the only benefits of breastfeeding for children.

Dettwyler’s studies in West Africa, where malnutrition is common even amongst adults, revealed that children, “still fully breastfed, are usually fat and healthy and happy” because “malnutrition and disease have not yet taken their toll” (Dettwyler, 79). What is it in breast milk that keeps a child protected from he same ailments and diseases which take the lives of so many children in these areas? Breast milk is more than just food for a child–it also provides antibodies to help “fight off sickness” and has even been proven to lower the risk of asthma, allergies, colic, and even SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) (Chescheir et al, 216) and a “whole host of bacterial and viral infections” (Dettwyler, 79). How is it that a woman’s body is able to produce such an efficient food/medical supplement for her child’s needs? The answer is simple–evolution.

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