New Breastfeeding Research Shows The Power of Milk
It’s Breastfeeding Awareness Month! In honor of the occasion I thought we’d look at some amazing research that has been done recently.
Breastfeeding has been heavily researched for the last half century. People want to know if it’s worth it – because breastfeeding is a huge commitment and can be really difficult. Are all those sleepless nights, sore boobs and stained shirts getting you anything? YES!
So why do we constantly hear things about how breastfeeding is no better than formula or even that it’s worse? Because research is complicated and often flawed. There are LOTS of problems with studying something like this. There’s no way for researchers to have a baseline. We can’t get a group of women who all eat exactly the same, drink the same, sleep the same and have the same resources to feed a group of babies who are all exactly the same size, age, and maturity, that are equally healthy and smart. But we have no way to know which kids were genetically predisposed to great immune systems or genius level intelligence.
So researches just have to assume that babies who are the same age and have similar economic conditions are about equal. They lump all the breastfed babies onto one side and all the formula babies onto another.
Breastfeeding & Antibiotics
A new study out of Finland has finally shown why previous studies did not always show breastfeeding to be healthier.
The study showed that ANY use of antibiotics during breastfeeding- that means baby or mom taking antibiotics – reduced multiple types of beneficial gut bacteria. Even babies that had were exclusively breastfed for over a year had lower bacteria diversity in their bodies.
10-20% of women will get mastitis while breastfeeding. Typically your doctor will prescribe an antibiotic as the first treatment but there are many ways to reduce your chances of getting mastitis (frequent nursing for the first 6 weeks) and other ways to treat it (nursing, icing and anti-inflammatory compresses).
We NEED good bacteria! Evidence suggests that having lots of different types of good bacteria reduces asthma, allergies, autoimmune disease, obesity, ADHD and has a major impact on how strong your immune system is. (Want more info on your microbiome and how to help it? See this post) Antibiotics save lives but they are seriously overused in this country! Never take antibiotics for a virus (a cold or the flu) because they DO NOT work on viruses and always ask your doctor if you can wait and try symptomatic treatment first for bacterial infections. Your body is amazing and will often clear a bacterial infection on its own if you give it a chance.
What if you or baby really needs an antibiotic? You can pump to keep up supply and give organic formula for the 3-5 days of treatment. But baby (and mom) may not like this. During antibiotic treatment you should ALWAYS take a good quality probiotic and you can give older infants a probiotic. I suggest waiting until baby is over 3 months and always start with a very small amount.
Breast Milk & the Microbiome
Another recent report looked at the composition of breast milk and found another interesting gut bacteria link. Human breast milk have a HUGE amount of oligosaccharides – super long sugar molecules. The odd thing is humans can’t break these down. WHY would milk be full of something we can’t use? It turns out our bacteria eat them! Breast milk feeds babies’ good bacteria!
Breastfeeding & Diabetes
Last month a study out of Germany showed that moms with gestational diabetes who breastfeed for just 3 months were 40% less likely to develop type 2 diabetes for up to 15 years. The research showed that breastfeeding changes mom’s metabolism and alters properties in her blood and plasma. These changes help insulin to reduce blood sugar.
This is significant for several reasons. It has proven that even short term breastfeeding can positively impact mom’s health long term and it provides a preventative strategy for fighting type 2 diabetes in women. Gestational diabetes is a major risk factor for later diabetes development in mom.
Breastfeeding & DNA
A super cool study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition showed that babies who were breastfed for just 6 weeks had “significantly longer telomeres” than when they were 4-5 years old. Telomeres are the ending section of DNA, like a cap that protects the DNA from damage. Short telomeres are linked with aging, chronic disease and high stress. This study is somewhat limited – it only measured telomeres at one age – but showing any link to cellular or DNA health is a major moment for breastfeeding research!