Breastfeeding as Super-Med

Imagine that you are pregnant and that your doctor tells you he has a newly discovered drug that is the best preventive medicine he has ever seen.  It will reduce your baby’s risk of various gastrointestinal infections by 64% compared to the babies of mothers who didn’t use this medicine.  Then he told you that if you used this medicine for more than three months, your baby’s risk of a common ear infection would be reduced by 50%.  And he went on about the other benefits.  Would you start wondering if your insurance covered this wonder-drug?  And should you invest in the manufacturer’s stock since it would certainly be going up?

You can stop daydreaming.  You can have this “wonder med” for free.  Just breastfeed.  Rich or poor, that is the best gift you can give your baby.

On February 27, 2012 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) published a revised policy statement on “breastfeeding and the use of human milk.”  The emphasis in this publication was on the protection of breastfeeding with regard to many diseases and in saving babies’ lives.  I don’t see how any mother can read this and then decide not to breastfeed her baby.  The evidence is overwhelming, that breastfeeding makes for a healthier baby.

The AAP recommendation is the same: breastfeeding should be done exclusively for the first six months with complementary foods added and breastfeeding continuing for a year or longer. And “all preterm infants should receive human milk.”

According to this new AAP statement, what are the benefits for the baby?  Below I have listed the benefits for 1) any type of breastfeeding and for 2) exclusive breastfeeding for 3 or 4 or 6 months.

For Any Breastfeeding
—incidence of otitis media was reduced by 23%
—incidence of nonspecific gastrointestinal tract infections were reduced by 64%
—preterm infants receiving only human milk had a 77% reduction in necrotizing enterocolitis
36% reduction of SIDS
—52% reduction in celiac disease when infant is fed only breast milk at time of gluten exposure
—31% reduction in risk for childhood inflammatory bowel disease
—15% to 30% reduction in adolescent and adult obesity
—each month of breastfeeding is associated with a 4% reduction in risk of overweight
—40% reduction of type 2 diabetes mellitus
—intelligence scores and teacher’s ratings are significantly greater in breastfed infants
—preterm infants who receive primarily human milk have significantly better scores for mental, motor, and behavior ratings at ages 18 months and 30 months
—greatly reduces the risk for neglect or abuse by the mother

For Exclusive Breastfeeding for 3 Months
—risk of otitis media was reduced by 50% with exclusive breastfeeding for more than 3 months
—asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema reduced by 27% in low-risk population and 42% with a positive family history
—30% reduction of type 1 diabetes mellitus
—children have higher intelligence scores
—children have higher teacher ratings

For Exclusive Breastfeeding for 4 Months
—risk of hospitalization is reduced by 72% with more than 4 months of exclusive breastfeeding
—risk of the severity of respiratory syncytial virus bronchiolitis was reduced by 74%

For Exclusive Breastfeeding for 6 Months
—risk of pneumonia had a four-fold increase with exclusive breastfeeding for 4 to 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding compared to those babies breastfed exclusively for more than 6 months
—risk of serious colds and ear and throat infections were reduced by 63%
—900 US infants’ lives saved
—1,000,000 infants’ lives saved in 42 developing countries
—20% reduction in risk of leukemia
—15% reduction in risk of acute lymphocytic leukemia
—could save $13 billion per year in the U. S.

Is there any benefit to the mother who breastfeeds?
Breastfeeding may provide her with natural child spacing due to delayed menses and may protect her from type 2 diabetes mellitus, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
(AAP Breastfeeding Policy, February 2012)

Sheila Kippley
The Seven Standards of Ecological Breastfeeding: The Frequency Factor

4 Responses to “Breastfeeding as Super-Med”

  1. Great post! I’ll be passing this great information on.

  2. Katherine Lauer says:

    Thank you so much for posting this, Sheila! These numbers are incredibly important to share. My only nagging criticism of you (of really the whole industry that writes about breastfeeding) is that breast milk is the control and baby formula is the experiment. So all those numbers should be flipped. E.g., it’s not that breast milk causes a 40% reduction in diabetes but that formula causes a 40% increase in diabetes. I know you know that and it’s very politically sensitive! Either way, these numbers are critical to publicize, so thank you.

  3. I agree with you, Katherine. Your way of expressing the statistics has been stressed in the past by others, but that’s the way the AAP worded it.

  4. ac says:

    I went to a 2-day breastfeeding conference here last week. These benefits were emphasized as information to encourage a struggling mom with to keep nursing; it is quite amazing. There was also some discussion about how something in the the breast milk has been seen to “eat up” some cancer cells. Plus, there are some new ethical stem cells that seem to have been found in the breast milk that they are working with. What a wonderful creation.