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Breastfeeding can boost child's brain

By Dr Cory Couillard

Researchers have found a connection between breastfeeding and the development of a child's brain. Researchers concluded in a study of more than 17,000 infants from newborn to six and a half years that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding improved brain development.

A similar study of nearly 4,000 children showed babies who were breastfed had significantly higher scores on vocabulary testing at five years of age in comparison with children who were not breastfed. Higher levels were directly correlated with a longer duration of breastfeeding.

Preterm infants with low birth weight that received breast milk improved their brain development scores at 18 months when compared with preterm infants who weren't given breast milk. Follow-up research indicated that the score held true even at 30 months.

Other findings confirmed babies are less likely to be hospitalised, suffer adverse side effects to vaccines and significantly reduced the risk of dying as well.

Children who are breastfed have a 20 per cent lower risk of dying between 28 days and one year than children who weren't breastfed, with longer breastfeeding associated with lower risk, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

The major substance that is known to strengthen a child's immune system is called colostrum. Colostrum is specifically tailored to facilitate the health of a child. It helps guard against invading viruses and bacteria by providing a protective layer in a baby's intestines, nose and throat.

Breastfeeding also helps children avoid a variety of diseases later in life, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure and several digestive diseases like inflammatory bowel disease, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Studies have also shown breastfeeding can reduce a child's risk of developing certain childhood cancers.

Breastfeeding can protect against allergies: Major health conditions of childhood such as colic, allergies and asthma have all been linked to whether a child has been breastfed or not. Formula that is based on cow's milk or soy tends to have significantly more adverse reactions than babies who are breastfed.

Scientists further confirm the colostrum provides the added barrier of protection. Inflammation in the gut can cause foreign proteins to create health problems. Children's digestive tracts are not designed to absorb soy or cow's milk but will commonly tolerate it.

Formula-fed babies don't get the layer of protection and they are more vulnerable to inflammation, allergies and other future health issues. Essentially, what a child is fed early in life will help determine longevity, quality of life and disease processes later in life.

Breastfeeding can protect against obesity: Breastfeeding is a way to help reduce a child's risk of becoming overweight or obese, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Seventeen studies in the American Journal of Epidemiology correlate breastfed children to be less overweight than non-breastfed children. Once again there was a direct relationship between overall length of breastfeeding and normal weight.

Many experts agree breastfeeding will lead to healthier eating patterns throughout childhood and beyond. Breastfeeding facilitates one's body to absorb, utilise and excrete in an improved manner. This will reduce chemical, physical and mental stress on the body that can lead to current and future health concerns.

Stress is known to alter hormone production such as insulin, leptin and cortisol. These hormones are instrumental in regulating appetite, fat utilisation and energy control. Formula-fed babies gain weight more rapidly in the first weeks of life and will set an artificial norm for the body's metabolism to operate.

Breastfeeding can reduce postpartum depression: The National Institutes of Health reviewed over 9,000 study abstracts and concluded women who didn't breastfeed or who stopped breastfeeding too soon had a higher risk of postpartum depression.

Breastfeeding can reduce stress levels, as most women report feeling more relaxed during and after breastfeeding. This is due to the presence of a hormone called oxytocin. Studies confirm oxytocin has a healing, relaxing effect on the mother and child.

Complications can also be reduced by breastfeeding. Oxytocin is known to reduce uterine bleeding and lower blood pressure. Both of these will reduce haemorrhage, severe blood loss and loss of life.

There is a bit of controversy when it comes to breastfeeding and the use of antidepressants. Generally, antibiotics are not healthy for a child, but the mother must be able to function to provide proper care and nutrients. A depressed mother may lose interest, have excessive fatigue or engage in questionable health practices that would prevent the child from getting essential nutrients.

Breastfeeding can protect against cancer: Several studies have concluded that the longer a woman breastfed, the greater the protection against breast and ovarian cancer. Notably, breastfeeding for at least one year has shown the greatest protective effect against breast cancer.

Hormones such as estrogen are impacted by physical, mental and emotional stress over time. Pregnancy before age 30 and breastfeeding will reduce a woman's total number of lifetime menstrual cycles and they will have better oestrogen and progesterone balance. Oestrogen dominance is known to fuel up to 80 per cent of all breast cancers.

Exercise helps breastfeeding ability: Exercise is well known to contribute to overall good health, reduce stress and is appropriate at all times during breastfeeding. Any type of exercise is safe and will not affect the composition of the breast milk produced.

However, there has been some debate about the timing of exercise and breastfeeding. Lactic acid post-exercise may alter the taste, but as long as the baby seems content there is no reason not to nurse after a workout. Many women pump or feed a child before higher-impact exercise to reduce tension and improve support.

There are many benefits of breastfeeding and exercising. The mom can feel better, have less impact of postpartum depression and improve postnatal recovery times. Exercise is also an effective way to lose the baby fat, regain muscle, strengthen bones and get a boost of energy that is needed being a new mom.

It is important to not lose weight too fast, and ensure proper hydration levels. Drinking plenty of water will help the flow of breast milk, but it will also aid in the detoxification of anything that could be unhealthy for the mother or the baby.

Start slowly. It's common for both men and women to start an exercise programme and never finish it. Start by going for a walk or some other basic exercise to help build up strength and endurance. Ensure your diet is free of processed foods that have preservatives, colourings and other unnatural substances.

Eat plenty of healthy, lean meats and fish that have healthy omega oils and increase the consumption of vegetables. A healthy diet will reduce inflammation, promote healing and ensure the proper nutrients to prevent disease and maintain health.

Breastfeeding is natural, but that does not necessarily mean it's always easy or convenient. Don't hesitate to contact your healthcare provider if you need help, support or any questions answered.

• Dr Cory Couillard is an international healthcare speaker and columnist for numerous newspapers, magazines, websites and publications throughout the world. He works in collaboration

with the World Health Organisation's goals of disease prevention and global healthcare education. Views do not

necessarily reflect endorsement.

E-mail: drcorycouillard@gmail.com

Facebook: Cory Couillard

Twitter: Cory_Couillard

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