I attended a funeral today for a friend who died of metastatic colon cancer. She was only 50 years old. Her children are 22 and 18. This was a painful, scary journey for the past 4 years. When I first told a midwife friend of mine about this woman’s diagnosis, the midwife said “I wonder if she was breastfed?” As was typical in the 1960’s, she was not.
Stories like these do not really hit home until you experience it firsthand. Would the doctors, nurses and mothers of the 1960’s and 1970’s have changed their ideas for feeding newborns if they could look forward 50 years and see the effects of these unfounded experiments on human babies? If my friend’s mother had known the impact of her choices, the incredible pain and suffering that goes along with outliving your children, she would have fought with all of her strength to give her baby the best food possible. People just didn’t know back then. But we do now.
Breastmilk, Essential in Healthy Gut Development
We now know that Breastmilk is an essential nutrient in the development of a healthy gut for humans. Additionally, more and more is now known about the immune system – we now know that the bowel is the center of our immune system. And when we do not develop a healthy bowel because of a non-vaginal birth and a lack of exposure to breastmilk, we are left exposed to a host of diseases including cancer and Insulin dependent diabetes mellitus. Even the smallest amount of formula has the potential to negatively affect the health of a baby for the rest of its life. The reliance on infant formula (even small amounts) given in the first couple of weeks is now known to cause allergies, auto immune disorders and childhood and young adult cancers. Modern science is proving what we should have assumed all along. Human milk is the best food for human mammals.
The Scientific Support Behind Breastmilk
Following are excerpts taking from credible sources that help support the critical importance of Breastfeeding:
“An antibody, SIgA, found in breast milk alters the kinds of bacteria that colonize the infant gut. The SIgA antibody also appears to change “turn on” and “turn off” genes involved in the rapid growth of the intestines that is normal in early life, as well as genes specifically linked to intestinal bowel disease.”
“Breast-feeding is generally accepted as the optimal method of feeding infants. However, we have yet to fully understand the complex mixture of bioactive compounds contained in human milk. Epidemiological studies have indicated that breast-feeding is associated with health benefits in the infant for many immune-related conditions. Breast milk contains various antimicrobial substances, factors that promote immune development, constituents that promote tolerance/priming of the infant immune system, as well as anti-inflammatory components. This chapter identifies and discusses the immunological compounds in human milk and the available evidence for their effect on the immune system of the infant. Current feeding regimens recommended for infants are based primarily on the current understanding of the nutritional requirements of the neonate, but perhaps will be modified to reflect the consequences on immune function both immediate and later in life.
Breastmilk is Almost Always the Answer
With all of this information available, I continue to be amazed that formula is still routinely offered to newborns in the hospital. Of course it is being offered because of “emergent” situations but in all honestly it is rarely an emergency and breastmilk is almost always the answer. Baby-friendly practices stress the importance of breastfeeding and breastmilk as an exclusive food for newborns. The American Academy of Pediatrics stresses the importance of exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months http://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/Pages/AAP-Reaffirms-Breastfeeding-Guidelines.aspx.
Breastfeeding Crucial to the Start of a Healthy Life
I do believe that progress is happening. The evidence is so compelling that even the most skeptical of people have to believe that exclusive breastfeeding is crucial to the start of a healthy life. We can prevent mothers and families from suffering pain and stress by simply acknowledging that Nature knows better than we do. As we move into August, National Breastfeeding Month, acknowledge exclusive breastfeeding is crucial to the start of a healthy life and then please endeavor to be an encouragement and help to the nursing moms in your life. I will do the same.