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Infant Advantages of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding offers some protection against sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).
Recently, much national attention has been given to the relationship between the prone (tummy-down) sleeping position in infants and the incidence of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that the prone position be avoided for sleeping infants and that babies be placed to sleep on their backs. Several other factors have been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS but have received far less publicity, including not smoking, breastfeeding, and not overheating infants. Parents deserve to know all the factors that potentially can reduce their child's risk of SIDS.

Breast milk contains growth factors believed to impact development and maturation, plus a whole host of factors that may shape a baby's brain and behavior.
Many of the hormones and growth factors in human milk have only recently been identified, and their importance to babies is not yet fully understood. Some hormones appear only in the colostrum, others are present only in later milk, while still others are present in variable amounts throughout the course of lactation. These precisely regulated hormones may influence the timing of certain developmental events in the baby. So little is known about the various hormones and growth factors in human milk that it is impossible to try to replicate them in formulas. Meanwhile, no one knows whether what a baby eats in early life will later affect his well-being as a senior citizen.

Whether nutrition in early life has a long-term impact on brain development remains controversial. However, several studies involving both full-term and preterm infants have found a link between later cognitive performance and method of infant feeding. Children who were breastfed as infants achieved significantly higher scores on a variety of intelligence tests compared to those who had been artificially fed. The differences attributed to breastfeeding were distinct from other factors known to influence intelligence, such as education and socioeconomic status of the parents.

Nursing provides a valuable source of security and comfort for your infant.
The breastfeeding relationship involves unique giving and receiving between mother and baby. A baby has a regular and vital need for her mother's milk and physical closeness, while a mother's full breasts regularly need to be relieved and drained. Thus, breastfeeding assures that mothers and babies remain intimately connected through the making and taking of milk. This reciprocal interaction can deepen the bond between a mother and baby and continue long after breast milk has been the sole source of a baby's nutrition. The breastfeeding relationship can extend into the second and third year, or even beyond, as a means of intermittently soothing and emotionally satisfying a toddler as he or she becomes more independent.

A breastfed baby gets the privilege of being held for every nursing, with the opportunity for extensive social interaction during feedings. The formula-fed baby who learns to hold his bottle, or worse yet has it propped for him, may be required to take his feeding alone, without the presence of an attentive caretaker with whom to socialize. Recently, I witnessed a small baby in an infant carrier who was trying in vain to feed from a precariously propped bottle, while his mother was preoccupied nearby. Whenever the position of the bottle shifted, no milk filled the nipple and he was left sucking air while facing the side wall of the carrier without any human interaction. How I wished this little one were able to enjoy being breastfed in his mother's loving arms, receiving her undivided attention. I also ached for the mother's own loss. In not being fully attuned to her infant's cues, she remained unaware of the ways in which she herself could be fulfilled by meeting his needs.

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From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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