Editor's Note: Abbott believes breast milk is the gold standard in infant nutrition. We support the WHO’s goal of increasing breastfeeding rates, including promoting exclusive breastfeeding during the first six months of life, where possible, and continued breastfeeding up to and beyond two years of age. We also believe it is important for all mothers and their health care teams to choose the best feeding options for their babies and themselves – if breast milk is not available or not chosen, infant formula is the only safe and recommended alternative.
From the moment they are conceived, newborn babies form a strong bond with their mom. Both emotional and physical, breastfeeding is one of the most important bonds baby and mom will share.
Breastfeeding is championed by health and medical experts because it contains benefits well beyond basic nutrition. A recipe that’s been around for over thousands of years, breast milk offers life-long health benefits, not just for the baby but for the breastfeeding mom as well.
What exactly makes breast milk so valuable that it is recommended as the sole source of nutrition for a baby’s first six months of life? Our experts explain.
A Strong Start in Life
Breastfeeding gives children the healthiest start in life. More than just food for babies, it is also a personalized form of medicine, protecting children from common childhood illnesses.
What can mothers do to ensure that they have a good supply of the most ideal form of food for their babies? It can start with her own nutrition.
“Optimal nutrition before conception and during pregnancy is important for preparing the body to meet the high nutritional demands for later breastfeeding. Her optimal nutrition during breastfeeding continues to be important for breast milk,” says Christina Sherry, PhD, RD, a research scientist in prenatal nutrition with Abbott.
“For example, the type of fats that moms eat has an impact on the fat composition of her breast milk. Fats, like omega 3, are important for the development of the infant’s brain and neurological system,” explains Sherry.
In fact, exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months is linked to a higher intelligence quotient (IQ) and longer-term health benefits. Even more fascinating is the influence that a mother’s milk has on her baby’s taste palate. Sherry adds that the flavors of food ingested by breastfeeding mothers can be transmitted through their milk. Interestingly, some research shows children who have experienced these flavors may be more accepting of these tastes later on in their lives.
A Two-Way Benefit
Moms also have much to gain from breastfeeding. Research has shown that it lowers the risk of breast cancer and type 2 diabetes. It has also been shown to reduce post-birth weight retention in mothers.
Yet, despite these health benefits, only 36 percent of women worldwide breastfeed exclusively for up to six months.
Dr. Wong Boh Boi, a senior ParentCraft Educator at Thomson Medical Centre in Singapore says long working hours and a lack of quality nutrition are the reasons why mothers stop breastfeeding before six months.
Out of the 9,611 mothers surveyed between January 2015 and January 2016, Dr. Wong found that up to 35 percent experienced low breast milk supply by the sixth week post childbirth.
According to Dr. Wong, “stress, irregular breastfeeding or pumping and improper diet” affect milk production.
“Often, mothers try to breastfeed by the textbook, but they don’t have a proper understanding of lactation, how milk is produced, how to maintain its production and what to eat,” explains Dr. Wong.
Nutrient-Rich Diets Are Key
In Southeast Asia, many moms adopt an East-meets-West approach to their diet. By incorporating alternative therapies like Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM), they complement their diet with traditional foods and plant-based herbs believed to aid recovery and breast milk production. Though the barriers to breastfeeding may be aplenty, Dr. Wong says knowledge and skill of breastfeeding and a nutrient-rich diet benefits the health of a mother and her child.
If you are breastfeeding, prioritize your nutrition and consult your doctor or lactation expert for any concerns.
Abbott's Commitment To Breastfeeding
We support mothers with feeding resources. For breastfeeding basics and common situations, visit our resource center for informative downloads. To learn about the work Abbott does to support breastfeeding families, educate healthcare professionals and more, download our fact sheet.
With the right resources, support and nutrition, moms can give their babies a strong start in life.