More than two decades of research have established
that breast milk is perfectly suited to nourish
infants and protect them from illness. Breast-fed
infants have lower rates of hospital admissions,
ear infections, diarrhoea, rashes, allergies,
and other medical problems than bottle-fed babies.
The primary benefit of breast milk is nutritional.
Human milk contains just the right amount of
fatty acids, lactose, water, and amino acids
for human digestion, brain development, and
Cow's milk contains a different type of protein
than breast milk. This is good for calves, but
human infants can have difficulty digesting
it. Bottle-fed infants tend to be fatter than
breast-fed infants, but not necessarily healthier.
Breast-fed babies have fewer illnesses because
human milk transfers to the infant a mother's
antibodies to disease.
About 80 percent of the cells in breast milk
are macrophages, cells that kill bacteria, fungi
and viruses. Breast-fed babies are protected,
in varying degrees, from a number of illnesses,
including pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal
infections, influenza, ear infections, and German
Furthermore, mothers produce antibodies to whatever
disease is present in their environment, making
their milk custom-designed to fight the diseases
their babies are exposed to as well.
A breast-fed baby's digestive tract contains
large amounts of Lactobacillus bifidus, beneficial
bacteria that prevent the growth of harmful
organisms. Human milk straight
from the breast is always sterile, never contaminated
by polluted water or dirty bottles, which can
also lead to diarrhoea in the infant.
milk contains at least 100 ingredients not found
in formula. No babies are allergic to their mother's
milk, although they may have a reaction to something
the mother eats. If she eliminates it from her
diet, the problem resolves itself.
Sucking at the breast promotes good jaw development
as well. It is harder work to get milk out of
a breast than a bottle, and the exercise strengthens
the jaws and encourages the growth of straight,
healthy teeth. The baby at the breast also can
control the flow of milk by sucking and stopping.
With a bottle, the baby must constantly suck
or react to the pressure of the nipple placed
in the mouth.
Nursing may have psychological benefits for
the infant as well, creating an early attachment
between mother and child. At birth, infants
see only 12 to 15 inches, the distance between
a nursing baby and its mother's face. Studies
have found that infants as young as 1 week prefer
the smell of their own mother's milk. When nursing
pads soaked with breast milk are placed in their
cribs, they turn their faces toward the one
that smells familiar.
The nursing baby enjoys a sense of security
from the warmth and presence of the mother,
especially when there is skin-to-skin contact
during feeding. Parents of bottle-fed babies
may be tempted to prop bottles in the baby's
mouth, with no human contact during feeding.
However, a nursing mother must cuddle her infant
closely many times during the day. Nursing becomes
more than a way to feed a baby; it is a source
of warmth and comfort.