Breastfeeding Champions
Breastfeeding your baby is highly recommended by doctors and healthcare providers worldwide.  Even major health organizations such as the World Health Organization (WHO) and the National Health and Medical Research Council recommend exclusively breastfeeding your baby for the first six months.
Dr Yeap Min Li, Consultant Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Thomson Medical Centre, is one such advocate. She recently spoke at the Anmum Breastfeeding Forum on 'Body, Mind and Soul for Breastfeeding', where she explained some of the reasons why breast milk is best.
Having breast-fed all three of her own children, she believes that parents should breastfeed their children for as long as possible.  Unfortunately, Dr Yeap says that as more and more mothers go out to work and with the constant development of the milk formula industry, breastfeeding has actually declined through the years.  Thus, the ministry of Health has launched an initiative to encourage mothers to breastfeed.
Good things never go out of date
Here are some very compelling reasons why a mother should breastfeed her child.
Dr Yeap, like many doctors, advocate breastfeeding as an important way to forge the bond between mother and child.
Breastfeeding is nature's way of ensuring that you and baby have a chance to connect multiple times a day.  In fact, nursing mothers tend to be with their infants more than bottle-feeding mothers.
When a mother nurses her baby, she also tends to become more sensitive to her baby's body language and needs.  The connection is further strengthened during nursing, as mothers tend to interact with their babies by rocking them or talking to them as they feed.
Delight in the love hormone
Breastfeeding can help you feel less stressed because it triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin in your body.  This is often called the 'love hormone' because of the role it plays in orgasm, social recognition, pair bonding and maternal behavior, and supposedly relaxes you while bringing out your nurturing side.
One study found that compared to non-nursing moms was prone to have higher levels of oxytocin in their blood, and showed a lower blood pressure level after being asked to talk about a stressful personal problem.
Physically, oxytocin can also help your uterus to contract back to size after birth, resulting in less postpartum bleeding.
Shed those pregnancy pounds
Here's a great reason for the mummies.  Breastfeeding your baby can help you lose weight more quickly, because your body burns more calories while it works to make breast milk.
Reduce your cancer risk
Some studies suggest that the longer you breastfeed, the more you're protected against breast and ovarian cancer.  Nursing for at least a year appears to have a significant protective effect against breast cancer.
It's been suggested that this is due to the structural changes in breast tissue from breastfeeding, as well as the fact that lactation suppresses the amount of estrogen your body produces.  This estrogen suppression effect may help guard against ovarian cancer as well.
There has also been research to suggest that breastfeeding may actually improve a woman's bone density in the long run and reduce the risk of hip fractures in old age.
No itches and sneezes
Dr Yeap mentions that the chances of baby having an allergic reactions like skin atrophy, eczema or asthma can be greatly reduced by breastfeeding.
And the research does show that breastfeeding for at least six months will make your baby a lot less likely to develop food or respiratory allergies, with this protection potentially lasting well into adolescence.
When it comes to food for example, fatty acids and immune factors such as IgA (immunoglobulin A) in breast milk can prevent allergic reactions by stopping large foreign proteins from getting into a baby's system.
Activate defense shields
Breastfeeding has also been proven to protect your baby from gastrointestinal, respiratory and ear troubles, with less severe effects when they do occur.
In fact, breastfeeding exclusively, with no solid food for at least six months seems to offer the most protection.  This is because immune factors like IgA that are present in a mother's colostrums guard against invading germs by forming a protective layer on your baby’s mucous membranes in his intestines, nose, and throat.
Breast milk also seems to offer special protection for premature babies.  Premmies nourished by breast milk have fewer serious blood infections and cases of meningitis than formula-fed ones.
Breastfeeding for more than six months also works wonders for your baby's immune system, as the antibodies in your milk help to reduce a child's risk of developing conditions like childhood leukemia and Type 1 diabetes.
Yay for DHA
Dr Yeap also mentions that studies on children up to 10-15 years old indicate that the cognitive function in breastfed children is much superior compared with bottle-fed children.
Indeed experts say that this is due to omega-3 fatty acid, DHA, which is naturally produced in breast milk.  It's believed to improve the overall cognitive function of children who are continually breastfed.
Medical research has also suggested that breastfeeding decreased the incident of myopia in children, even up to primary school age.  Again, this is attributed to a continued intake of DHA.

This article was first published in Singapore's "LiveWell" magazine Vol 18, in their issue Aug - Sep 2010.

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Breastfeeding Champions