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Health Condition

Breast-Feeding Support

About This Condition

Human breast milk is the best food for newborn babies. In December 1997, the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a policy statement advocating breast milk as the ideal, exclusive food for babies in the first six months of life. They also recommended that breast-feeding continue for at least 12 months or longer if mutually desired.1

In the United States, only about 50% of new mothers giving birth in a hospital breast-feed their babies. This number declines rapidly, with only about 20% of women still breast-feeding at six months.2 There is a large body of evidence on the benefits of breast-feeding for both mother and infant. With adequate support and good information on preventing some of the common problems associated with breast-feeding, a woman’s chances of successfully breast-feeding her new baby are greatly improved.

Symptoms

Breast feeding provides significant benefits for baby and mother.

Benefits for baby

Human milk contains the ideal balance of nutrients, enzymes, and anti-infective and immune supportive agents for babies.3,4 There are two kinds of breast milk: colostrum and mature milk. Colostrum, which is produced in the first few days after birth, has higher concentrations of protein and immune-enhancing agents and less sugar and fat than mature milk.3 Mature human milk differs greatly from both infant formula and either cow or goat milk. Human milk, made specifically for the nutritional needs of the newborn, is superior to all alternatives.

One significant advantage of human breast milk is its abundance of immune-protective and anti-infective agents, including immunoglobulins (primarily immunoglobulin A, or IgA), lactoferrin, Bifidobacterium bifidum, white blood cells, and other factors. These agents are known to help the newborn fight a wide variety of illnesses. Many scientific studies in the United States and other developed countries have demonstrated the health protective benefits of breast milk.

Breast-feeding has been found to help prevent: diarrhea,6,7,8,9,10 lower respiratory tract infection,11,12,13,14ear infections (otitis media),8,16,17,18,19,20 meningitis,21,22urinary tract infection,23 and other serious infections (botulism, necrotizing enterocolitis, bacteremia).21,22,26,27,28 In addition, breast-feeding may possibly help prevent: sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS),29,30,31 insulin-dependent diabetes mellitus,32,33Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis,34,35cancer (lymphoma),36,37 allergic diseases,38,39,40 and other chronic digestive diseases.41,42,43 Breast-feeding may also enhance cognitive development.44,45

The protein composition of breast milk is perfect for growing babies and is easy for them to digest. Breast milk also provides absorbable nutrients; the iron and zinc found in human milk is extremely easily absorbed (bioavailable) compared with iron and zinc from other foods. When infants are exclusively breast-fed, 50% of the iron is absorbed. By comparison, absorption of iron from cow’s milk and iron-fortified commercial formula is much lower, only 10% and 4%, respectively.46

Breast milk is also quick, easy, and cost-effective. It’s always available and does not need to be prepared, and the cost of providing the necessary additional nutrition to a breast-feeding mother is about half the cost of commercial formula.47,48,4 And breast-feeding promotes bonding, allowing a mother and her baby to be in close physical contact, enhancing the formation of a close mother-baby bond.50

Benefits for mother

Breast-feeding a new baby has many important health benefits for the mother as well. Breast-feeding immediately after childbirth causes the release of a hormone called oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract. This results in less postpartum (after pregnancy) blood loss and a more rapid return of the uterus to its pre-pregnancy size.51 While breast-feeding, most women will not immediately resume their ovulation and menstrual periods. Delaying the return of ovulation may extend the time between pregnancies.52,53 Women who breast-feed for at least six months lose weight more quickly than women who continue breast-feeding for less than three months.54 And, while breast-feeding can cause a short-term loss of bone density, it also seems to improve the body’s ability to rebuild bones postpartum.55 In addition, women who have breast-fed their babies may have fewer osteoporosis-linked hip fractures after they’ve passed through menopause.56 Breast-feeding has also been associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer and a reduced risk of breast cancer in premenopausal women.57,58

References

1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics 1997;100:1035-9.

2. Ryan AS. The resurgence of breast-feeding in the United States. Pediatrics 1997;99:E12.

3. Duerbeck N. Breast-feeding: What you should know so you can talk to your patients. Comp Ther 1998;24:310-8.

4. Freed G. Breast-feeding. Time to teach what we preach. JAMA 1993;243-6.

5. Dewey KG, Heinig MJ, Nommsen-Rivers LA. Differences in morbidity between breast-fed and formula-fed infants. Pediatr 1995;126:696-702.

6. Howie PW, Forsyth JS, Ogston SA, et al. Protective effect of breast feeding against infection. Br Med J 1990;300:11-16.

7. Kovar MG, Serdula MK, Marks JS, et al. Review of the epidemiologic evidence for an association between infant feeding and infant health. Pediatrics 1984;74:S615-38.

8. Popkin BM, Adair L, Akin JS, et al. Breast-feeding and diarrheal morbidity. Pediatrics 1990;86:874-82.

9. Beaudry M, Dufour R, Marcoux S. Relation between infant feeding and infections during the first six months of life. J Pediatr 1995;126:191-7.

10. Frank AL, Taber LH, Glezen WP, et al. Breast-feeding and respiratory virus infection. Pediatrics 1982;70:239-45.

11. Wright AI, Holberg CJ, Martinez FD, et al. Breast feeding and lower respiratory tract illness in the first year of life. Br Med J 1989;299:945-9.

12. Chen Y. Synergistic effect of passive smoking and artificial feeding on hospitalization for respiratory illness in early childhood. Chest 1989;95:1004-7.

13. Wright AL, Holberg CJ, Taussig LM, et al. Relationship of infant feeding to recurrent wheezing at age 6 years. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med 1995;149:758-63.

14. Saarinen UM. Prolonged breast feeding as prophylaxis for recurrent otitis media. Acta Paediatr Scand 1982;71:567-71.

15. Duncan B, Ey J, Holberg CJ, et al. Exclusive breast-feeding for at least 4 months protects against otitis media. Pediatrics 1993;91:867-72.

16. Owen MJ, Baldwin CD, Swank PR, et al. Relation of infant feeding practices, cigarette smoke exposure, and group child care to the onset and duration of otitis media with effusion in the first two years of life. J Pediatr 1993;123:702-11.

17. Paradise JL, Elster BA, Tan L. Evidence in infants with cleft palate that breast milk protects against otitis media. Pediatrics 1994;94:853-60.

18. Aniansson G, Alm B, Andersson B, et al. A prospective cohort study on breast-feeding and otitis media in Swedish infants. Pediatr Infect Dis J 1994;13:183-8.

19. Cochi SL, Fleming DW, Hightower AW, et al. Primary invasive Haemophilus influenzae type b disease: a population-based assessment of risk factors. J Pediatr 1986;108:887-96.

20. Takala AK, Eskola J, Palmgren J, et al. Risk factors of invasive Haemophilus influenzae type b disease among children in Finland. J Pediatr 1989;115:694-701.

21. Pisacane A, Graziano L, Mazzarella G, et al. Breast-feeding and urinary tract infection. J Pediatr 1992;120:87-9.

22. Arnon SS. Breast feeding and toxigenic intestinal infections: missing links in crib death? Rev Infect Dis 1984;6:S193-S201.

23. Lucas A, Cole TJ. Breast milk and neonatal necrotising enterocolitis. Lancet 1990;336:1519-23.

24. Covert RF, Barman N, Domanico RS, et al. Prior enteral nutrition with human milk protects against intestinal perforation in infants who develop necrotizing enterocolitis. Pediatr Res 1995;37:305A [abstract].

25. Ford RPK, Taylor BJ, Mitchell EA, et al. Breastfeeding and the risk of sudden infant death syndrome. Int J Epidemiol 1993;22:885-90.

26. Mitchell EA, Taylor BJ, Ford RPK, et al. Four modifiable and other major risk factors for cot death: the New Zealand study. J Paediatr Child Health 1992;28:S3-S8.

27. Scragg LK, Mitchell EA, Tonkin SL, et al. Evaluation of the cot death prevention programme in South Auckland. N Z Med J 1993;106:8-10.

28. Mayer EJ, Hamman RF, Gay EC, et al. Reduced risk of IDDM among breast-fed children. Diabetes 1988;37:1625-32.

29. Virtanen SM, Rasanen L, Aro A, et al. Infant feeding in Finnish children <7 yr of age with newly diagnosed IDDM. Diabetes Care 1991;14:415-7.

30. Koletzko S, Sherman P, Corey M, et al. Role of infant feeding practices in development of Crohn's disease in childhood. Br Med J 1989;298:1617-8.

31. Rigas A, Rigas B, Glassman M, et al. Breast-feeding and maternal smoking in the etiology of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis in childhood. Ann Epidemiol 1993;3:387-92.

32. Davis MK, Savitz DA, Graubard BI. Infant feeding and childhood cancer. Lancet 1988;2:365-8.

33. Shu X-O, Clemens J, Zheng W, et al. Infant breastfeeding and the risk of childhood lymphoma and leukaemia. Int J Epidemiol 1995;24:27-32.

34. Lucas A, Brooke OG, Morley R, et al. Early diet of preterm infants and development of allergic or atopic disease: randomised prospective study. Br Med J 1990;300:837-40.

35. Halken S, Host A, Hansen LG, et al. Effect of an allergy prevention programme on incidence of atopic symptoms in infancy. Ann Allergy 1992;47:545-53.

36. Saarinen UM, Kajosaari M. Breastfeeding as prophylaxis against atopic disease: prospective follow-up study until 17 years old. Lancet 1995;346:1065-9.

37. Udall JN, Dixon M, Newman AP, et al. Liver disease in a 1-antitrypsin deficiency: retrospective analysis of the influence of early breast- vs bottle-feeding. JAMA 1985;253:2679-82.

38. Sveger T. Breast-feeding, a 1-antitrypsin deficiency, and liver disease? JAMA. 1985;254:3036 [letter].

39. Greco L, Auricchio S, Mayer M, et al. Case control study on nutritional risk factors in celiac disease. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 1988;7:395-9.

40. Morrow-Tlucak M, Haude RH, Ernhart CB. Breastfeeding and cognitive development in the first 2 years of life. Soc Sci Med 1988;26:635-9.

41. Wang YS, Wu SY. The effect of exclusive breastfeeding on development and incidence of infection in infants. J Hum Lactation 1996;12:27-30.

42. Worthington-Roberts BS, Williams SR. Nutrition in Pregnancy and Lactation, 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Times Mirror/Mosby;1989.

43. Montgomery D, Splett P. Economic benefit of breast-feeding infants enrolled in WIC. J Am Diet Assoc 1997;97:379-85.

44. Tuttle CR, Dewey KG. Potential cost savings for Medi-Cal, AFDC, food stamps, and WIC programs associated with increasing breast-feeding among low-income Hmong women in California. J Am Diet Assoc 1996;96:885-90.

45. DeChateau P, Wiberg B. Long term effect on mother-infant behavior of extra contact during the first hour postpartum, II: a follow-up at three months. Acta Paediatr Scand 1977;66:145-51.

46. Chua S, Arulkumaran S, Lim I, et al. Influence of breastfeeding and nipple stimulation on postpartum uterine activity. Br J Obstet Gynaecol 1994;101:804-5.

47. Kennedy KI, Visness CM. Contraceptive efficacy of lactational amenorrhoea. Lancet 1992;339:227-30.

48. Gray RH, Campbell OM, Apelo R, et al. Risk of ovulation during lactation. Lancet 1990;335:25-9.

49. Dewey KG, Heinig MJ, Nommsen LA. Maternal weight-loss patterns during prolonged lactation. Am J Clin Nutr 1993;58:162-6.

50. Melton LJ, Bryant SC, Wahner HW, et al. Influence of breastfeeding and other reproductive factors on bone mass later in life. Osteoporos Int 1993;3:76-83.

51. Cumming RG, Klineberg RJ. Breastfeeding and other reproductive factors and the risk of hip fractures in elderly woman. Int J Epidemiol 1993;22:684-91.

52. Rosenblatt KA, Thomas DB, WHO Collaborative Study of Neoplasia and Steroid Contraceptives. Int J Epidemiol 1993;22:192-7.

53. Newcomb PA, Storer BE, Longnecker MP, et al. Lactation and a reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer. N Engl J Med 1994;330:81-7.

54. Jorgensen MH, Hernell O, Hughes E, Michaelsen KF. Is there a relation between docosahexaenoic acid concentration in mothers' milk and visual development in term infants? J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2001;32:293-6.

55. Gibson RA, Makrides M. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in breast milk: are they essential? Adv Exp Med Biol 2001;501:375-83.

56. Harris WS, Connor WE, Lindsey S. Will dietary w-3 fatty acids change the composition of human milk? Am J Clin Nutr 1984;40:780-5.

57. Jorgensen MH, Hernell O, Hughes E, Michaelsen KF. Is there a relation between docosahexaenoic acid concentration in mothers' milk and visual development in term infants? J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr 2001;32:293-6.

58. Gibson RA, Makrides M. Long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids in breast milk: are they essential? Adv Exp Med Biol 2001;501:375-83.

59. Harris WS, Connor WE, Lindsey S. Will dietary w-3 fatty acids change the composition of human milk? Am J Clin Nutr 1984;40:780-5.

60. Bingel AS, Farnsworth NR. Higher plants as potential sources of galactagogues. Econ Med Plant Res 1994;6:1-54 [review].

61. Gladstar R. Herbal Healing for Women. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1993, 177.

62. Mohr H. [Clinical investigations of means to increase lactation.] Dtsch Med Wschr 1954;79:1513-6 [in German].

63. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum and Beaconsfield, UK: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd., 1988, 318.

64. Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. Maternal diet alters the sensory qualities of human milk and the nursling's behavior. Pediatrics 1991;88:737-44.

65. Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. The effects of repeated exposure to garlic-flavored milk on the nursling's behavior. Pediatr Res 1993;34:805-8.

66. Bingel AS, Farnsworth NR. Higher plants as potential sources of galactagogues. Econ Med Plant Res 1994;6:1-54 [review].

67. Bingel AS, Farnsworth NR. Higher plants as potential sources of galactagogues. Econ Med Plant Res 1994;6:1-54 [review].

68. Gladstar R. Herbal Healing for Women. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1993, 177.

69. Mohr H. [Clinical investigations of means to increase lactation.] Dtsch Med Wschr 1954;79:1513-6 [in German].

70. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum and Beaconsfield, UK: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd., 1988, 318.

71. Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. Maternal diet alters the sensory qualities of human milk and the nursling's behavior. Pediatrics 1991;88:737-44.

72. Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. The effects of repeated exposure to garlic-flavored milk on the nursling's behavior. Pediatr Res 1993;34:805-8.

73. Bingel AS, Farnsworth NR. Higher plants as potential sources of galactagogues. Econ Med Plant Res 1994;6:1-54 [review].

74. Gladstar R. Herbal Healing for Women. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1993, 177.

75. Mohr H. [Clinical investigations of means to increase lactation.] Dtsch Med Wschr 1954;79:1513-6 [in German].

76. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum and Beaconsfield, UK: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd., 1988, 318.

77. Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. Maternal diet alters the sensory qualities of human milk and the nursling's behavior. Pediatrics 1991;88:737-44.

78. Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. The effects of repeated exposure to garlic-flavored milk on the nursling's behavior. Pediatr Res 1993;34:805-8.

79. Bingel AS, Farnsworth NR. Higher plants as potential sources of galactagogues. Econ Med Plant Res 1994;6:1-54 [review].

80. Gladstar R. Herbal Healing for Women. New York, Simon and Schuster, 1993, 177.

81. Mohr H. [Clinical investigations of means to increase lactation.] Dtsch Med Wschr 1954;79:1513-6 [in German].

82. Weiss RF. Herbal Medicine. Gothenburg, Sweden: Ab Arcanum and Beaconsfield, UK: Beaconsfield Publishers Ltd., 1988, 318.

83. Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. Maternal diet alters the sensory qualities of human milk and the nursling's behavior. Pediatrics 1991;88:737-44.

84. Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. The effects of repeated exposure to garlic-flavored milk on the nursling's behavior. Pediatr Res 1993;34:805-8.

85. Duerbeck N. Breast-feeding: What you should know so you can talk to your patients. Comp Ther 1998;24:310-8.

86. Dusdiecker LB, Stumbo PJ, Booth BM, Wilmoth RN. Prolonged maternal fluid supplementation in breast-feeding. Pediatrics 1990:86:737.

87. Worthington-Roberts BS, Williams SR. Nutrition in Pregnancy and Lactation, 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Times Mirror/Mosby,1989, 244-322 [review].

88. Duerbeck N. Breast-feeding: What you should know so you can talk to your patients. Comp Ther 1998;24:310-8.

89. Worthington-Roberts BS, Williams SR. Nutrition in Pregnancy and Lactation, 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Times Mirror/Mosby, 1989, 47-140 [review].

90. De Rosa G, Corsello SM, Ruffilli MP, et al. Prolactin secretion after beer. Lancet 1981;2:934.

91. Mennella JA, Beauchamp GK. Effects of beer on breast-fed infants. JAMA 1993;269:1637 [letter].

92. Wisborg K, Kesmodel U, Henriksen TB, et al. A prospective study of smoking during pregnancy and SIDS. Arch Dis Child 2000;83:203-6.

93. Haglund B, Cnattingius S. Cigarette smoking as a risk factor for sudden infant death syndrome. Am J Public Health 1990;80:29-32.

94. Malloy MH, Kleinman JC, Land GH, Schramm WF. The association of maternal smoking with age and cause of infant death. Am J Epidemiol 1988;128:46-55.

95. Malloy MH, Hoffman HJ, Peterson DR. Sudden infant death syndrome and maternal smoking. Am J Public Health 1992;82:1380-2.

96. Blair PS, Fleming PJ, Bensley D, et al. Smoking and the sudden infant death syndrome: results from the 1993-5 case-control study for confidential inquiry into stillbirths and deaths in infancy. Confidential Enquiry into Stillbirths and Deaths Regional Coordinators and Researchers. BMJ 1996;313:195-8.

97. Reijnveld SA, Brugman E, Hirasing RA. Infantile colic: maternal smoking as potential risk factor. Arch Dis Child 2000;83:302-3.

98. Freed GL, Clark SJ, Sorenson J, et al. National assessment of physicians' breast-feeding knowledge, attitudes, training, and experience. JAMA 1995;273:472-6.

99. World Health Organization. Protecting, Promoting and Supporting Breast-Feeding: The Special Role of Maternity Services. Geneva, Switzerland: WHO, 1989, 13-8.

100. Howard CR, Howard FM, Weitzman ML. Infant formula distribution and advertising in pregnancy: a hospital survey. Birth 1994;21:14-9.

101. Frederick IB, Auerback KG. Maternal-infant separation and breast-feeding: the return to work or school. J Reprod Med 1985;30:523-6.

102. Widstrom AM, Wahlberg V, Matthiesen AS, et al. Short-term effects of early suckling and touch of the nipple on maternal behavior. Early Hum Dev 1990;21:153-63.

103. Worthington-Roberts BS, Williams SR. Nutrition in Pregnancy and Lactation, 4th ed. St. Louis, MO: Times Mirror/Mosby, 1989, 323-97 [review].

104. Ahn CH, MacLean WC. Growth of the exclusively breast-fed infant. Am J Clin Nutr 1980;33:183-92.

105. American Academy of Pediatrics, Committee on Fetus and Newborn, and American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Maternal and newborn nutrition. In: Guidelines for Perinatal Care. 4th ed. Washington, DC: ACOG, AAP, 1997.

106. Hurst NM, Valentine CJ, Renfro L, et al. Skin-to-skin holding in the neonatal intensive care unit influences maternal milk volume. J Perinatol 1997;17:213-7.

107. Feher SDK, Berger LR, Johnson JD, Wilde JB. Increasing breast milk production for premature infants with a relaxation/imagery audiotape. Pediatrics 1989;83:57-60.

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The information presented by Healthnotes is for informational purposes only. It is based on scientific studies (human, animal, or in vitro), clinical experience, or traditional usage as cited in each article. The results reported may not necessarily occur in all individuals. Self-treatment is not recommended for life-threatening conditions that require medical treatment under a doctor's care. For many of the conditions discussed, treatment with prescription or over the counter medication is also available. Consult your doctor, practitioner, and/or pharmacist for any health problem and before using any supplements or before making any changes in prescribed medications. Information expires December 2018.