Not only is August the National Breastfeeding Awareness Month here, it’s also World Breastfeeding Awareness Month. And it’s being observed in around 170 countries where top experts agree: Breast milk is best for the baby right from the first hour of birth up to a year or even more.
In the first part of this column, I cited the numerous benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mother. But a lot more can be learned from various online articles citing findings and viewpoints of many experts across the globe in the fields of Obstetrics, Gynecology, Pediatrics, and other branches of medicine dealing with infants and toddlers.
And among breastfeeding’s most significant benefits, which should bring a lot of relief to worried mothers, is that breastfed infants account for only half as many cases of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) which claim thousands of lives yearly all over the world.
SIDS causes babies to die in their sleep—often without warning. “It’s so unpredictable, in fact, that many pathologists and healthcare providers now refer to it as Sudden Unexplained Infant Death Syndrome (SUIDS),” according to Dr. Steven Shapiro, chair of the Pediatrics Department at Abington-Jefferson Health in Philadelphia, USA.
While the connection of SIDS and breastfeeding is still unclear, it has been observed that breastfed babies are less likely to die suddenly than infants fed with formula milk.
Other benefits of breast milk are: It protects against allergies and eczema as “proteins in cow’s milk and soy milk formulas can stimulate an allergic reaction, while the proteins in human breast milk are more easily digested.”
It also causes less stomach upsets and constipation than formula milk, and it reduces the risk of viruses, urinary tract infections, gastroenteritis, inflammatory bowel disease, ear infections, and respiratory infections.
Breast milk also protects against diseases like spinal meningitis, Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and type 1 diabetes as immune factors and white blood cells are passed from the mother to the baby.
Research shows that breastfeeding makes vaccines more effective as the baby would have a more superior antibody response to vaccines.
And with fatty acids in breast milk believed to be brain boosters, “studies are pointing toward breastfed babies having higher IQ scores later in life, even when taking socioeconomic factors into consideration.”
Breastfed babies are also less likely to be obese in later life because of the theory that “nursing mothers get in tune with signals that their baby is full, and don’t overfeed” unlike with a formula bottle when one can’t be sure how much the infant has been fed.
Here in the Philippines, Section 2 of RA 10028 or “An Act expanding the promotion of breastfeeding” has this to say:
"Breastfeeding has distinct advantages which benefit the infant and the mother, including the hospital and the country that adopt its practice. It is the first preventive health measure that can be given to the child at birth. It also enhances mother-infant relationship. Furthermore, the practice of breastfeeding could save the country valuable foreign exchange that may otherwise be used for milk importation.
"Breast milk is the best food since it contains essential nutrients completely suitable for the infant's needs. It is also nature's first immunization, enabling the infant to fight potential serious infection. It contains growth factors that enhance the maturation of an infant's organ systems.”
With all its benefits, breastfeeding ought to be fully supported and encouraged this National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and beyond.
POSTSCRIPT: Happy birthday to my dear daughter, Myla Tugado-Sanchez! May you be blessed with more of the best, and may God always give you strength and wisdom to be your best even during times that are not the best.