According to researchers in Greece, breastfeeding gives infants a immune system boost the helps them to fight off infections better. Even health care and vaccines could not compete with the health benefits of breastfeeding.
Greek researchers tracked the health of over 900 infants for their first year of life. All of the infants were vaccinated and received good health care to keep them healthy. Of all the infants studied, however, only 91 were still breastfed by 6 months of life. The researchers found that it was these infants who had fewer infections and remained healthier during their first year.
The infants who were exclusively breastfed for 6 months even did better than those who were partially breastfed.
Infections such as ear and upper respiratory infections, as well as thrush, were more common in the infants that were not breastfed at all. The infections were also more severe. Researchers factored in other issues, such as siblings in the home and smoking, and still found that the breastfed infants had fewer and less severe infections overall.
“Mothers should be advised by health professionals that, in addition to all the other benefits, exclusive breastfeeding helps prevent infections in babies and lessens the frequency and severity of infectious episodes,” the researchers say.
Breast milk contains antibodies passed from the mother that can help an infant with a still developing immune system. Experts also feel that the immunological and nutritional factors in breast milk can help a baby fight off an infection better than one not receiving these. Professor Emmanouil Galanakis, the lead researcher, says it is this composition that helps infants.
Janet Fyle of the Royal College of Midwives in the UK, says the study is a welcome addition to the growing body of evidence that not breastfeeding can hurt infants.
“We know that breastfeeding is the default method of infant feeding for babies; good for mothers and good for the health of the nation. That is why we need to continue our efforts to ensure that we maintain a high rate of breastfeeding in the UK.
Health professionals in the US and Canada also encourage breastfeeding to ensure the good health of infants. – Summer, staff writer
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