All of my sisters started breastfeeding their children right away. Some of them stuck with it longer than the others for one reason or another, but they all made the choice to start out with breast milk because they wanted to give their children all the nutrients they could before starting formula or solid food.
The reasons women have for breastfeeding or not breastfeeding are vast and varied, but most of them have to do with some type of health issue. Either they think that breast milk is the healthiest option, or they think that formula gives their baby more iron, or the mother isn’t able to breastfeed for very long and is forced to substitute breast milk for maternal health issues. It’s long been declared by pediatrics everywhere that if you’re able to, breastfeeding is probably the best option for at least three to six months. A few reasons why it’s recommended so highly is because breastfeeding has been known to improve your baby’s brain growth and help your child develop healthy gut bacteria.
A study done at Brown University examined 114 children from the age of 10 months to four years old. Each child had been exclusively breastfed for at least three months. The control group used for the study was fed formula or a mix of formula and breast milk. The research team did an MRI on each child and compared the white matter microstructures, and measures of myelin water fraction. This allowed the researchers to compare the brain development of the breastfed children to the brain development of the control group. What the team found was that the children fed exclusively on breast milk showed improved development in their brains by the age of two.
Another study conducted at the University of Illinois showed that human milk oligosaccharides, also called HMO, produced short-chain fatty acids that feed a beneficial microbial population in the infant gut. In addition to that, the bacterial structure adjusts as the baby grows older and needs change.
It’s a very personal choice to breastfeed or use formula, but the health factors are very clear. If you’re unable to breastfeed your child but want to, there are actually some interesting options available for you. The Texas Children’s hospital has actually set up a breast milk donor program for underweight and preemies babies at the hospital. The milk is pasteurized before being sent back to the hospital, but even so it retains over 70% of its nutrients. In addition to Texas, there are human “milk banks” set up all across the United States for mothers unable to breastfeed their children.
- Brown University (2013, June 6). MRI study: Breastfeeding boosts babies' brain growth. ScienceDaily.
- University of Illinois College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences (2012, May 14). Breastfeeding benefits: Human breast milk ingredient adjusts to optimize for beneficial gut bacteria over time. ScienceDaily.