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Proven Benefits of Breastfeeding


Breastfeeding can boost your child's intelligence
By analyzing 20 studies on breastfeeding, formula feeding, and brain development, and quantifying the IQ benefit from breastfeeding, researchers found that breastfed babies had IQs approximately 5 points higher than their formula-fed peers. The researchers estimate that maternal bonding associated with breastfeeding accounts for about 40 percent of the increase, and that the nutrition in the milk itself accounts for the other 60 percent (3.2 IQ points, according to the researchers). Babies nursed up to six months saw the most increase, while children who were breastfed for two weeks or less showed no IQ benefit.

Researchers from the Christchurch School of Medicine in New Zealand studied more than 1,000 children for a period of 18 years and found that babies who were breastfed for eight months or more had higher IQs, better reading comprehension and math skills, and overall increases in scholastic ability. The effects are long-lived, the study says, lasting through childhood and adolescence.

Breastfeeding protects your baby from diarrhea, respiratory problems, and ear infections
Researchers from the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that the more breast milk babies receive in their first six months of life, the less likely they are to suffer ear infections and diarrhea.

Researchers from the World Health Organization found that babies born to poor women in developing countries had better survival rates from infectious disease. These mothers were forced to breastfeed because they could not afford breast milk substitutes. The protection from breast milk was strongest against diarrhea, but was also significant for respiratory infections. The two infectious diseases kill more than million children a year worldwide.

Exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months can protect your baby against future ear infections. In a study of 306 infants, researchers in New York found that between six and 12 months, babies who had been exclusively breastfed had an average of 25 percent fewer ear infections than formula-fed children.

When researchers implemented a breastfeeding promotion campaign in a Navajo community in Shiprock, New Mexico, the number of moms who nursed their babies exclusively for any period of time increased from 16 percent to 55 percent. The number of babies who developed pneumonia declined by 32 percent, and the number who suffered from gastroenteritis decreased by 15 percent.

Babies who nurse for at least one year have fewer stomach infections and less eczema in the first year of life than those who are weaned sooner, say researchers from McGill University in Montreal. They observed 17,046 full-term infants with healthy mothers who planned to nurse. More than 30 hospitals in Eastern Europe were involved in the experiment. At random, researchers helped half the hospitals start breastfeeding support programs, so new moms received instructions and counseling from doctors and midwives. The rest of the hospitals cared for their patients as usual and served as controls for the experiment. A year later, nearly 20 percent of the mothers who'd received breastfeeding support were still nursing their infants, compared to 11.4 percent of moms in the control group. Only 9 percent of the breastfed infants in the first group had a stomach infection during the year, compared with 13 percent of infants in the control group. Also, only 3 percent of the breastfed infants in the first group developed eczema (a scaly red rash caused by an allergy), compared with 6 percent in the control group. — Journal of the American Medical Association, January 24, 2001

Breastfeeding protects your baby from respiratory illnesses such as asthma
Parents Talk

In a study of more than 2,000 children, researchers in Australia found that exclusive breastfeeding for at least the first four months after birth reduced a child's risk of developing asthma -by age 6.

Breastfeeding may protect your child against obesity
In a study of 9,357 children between the ages of 5 and 6, researchers at Ludwig Maximillians University in Munich, Germany, found that children who were breastfed exclusively as babies (even for as little as three to five months) had a 35 percent lower chance of being obese than their formula-fed peers.

Breastfeeding protects preemies from infections and high blood pressure later in life
Researchers from Georgetown University Medical Center and Johns Hopkins School of Hygiene and Public Health studied the medical records of 212 very low birth weight babies born prematurely in 1992 and 1993. They discovered that only 29.3 percent of babies who received breast milk caught infections, compared with 47.2 percent of formula-fed babies. Fewer than 20 percent of babies nourished by breast milk suffered serious blood infections or meningitis, compared with 33 percent of formula-fed preemies.

Formula-fed preemies may grow up to have higher blood pressure in their teens than their breastfed peers. Researchers focused on 926 premature babies, feeding some of them breast milk, some formula specially made for premature babies, and some regular formula for the duration of their time in the hospital (an average of 30 days). Then, the researchers measured the children's blood pressure when they were between 13 and 16 years old. Out of 216 teenagers who participated in the follow-up study, those who'd been fed formula had higher blood pressure on average than their breastfed peers.

Breastfeeding may protect your baby from leukemia
A study of more than 2,200 children found that those who were breastfed as babies were 21 percent less likely to develop two of the most common types of leukemia — acute lymphoblastic and acute myeloid leukemia — than children who were never breastfed. Moreover, the longer breastfeeding continued, the more protection the child seemed to have against the cancer.

Breastfeeding can reduce new moms' stress levels
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill measured the blood pressure and oxytocin levels of 24 new mothers and found that those with the most oxytocin in their system (50 percent of breastfeeding moms compared with 8 percent of bottle-feeding moms) had lower blood pressure after being asked to talk about a stressful personal problem.

Breastfeeding may cut your risk of breast cancer
Researchers at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill found that breastfeeding cuts the risk of breast cancer by 20 percent in women aged 20 to 49 and by 30 percent in women aged 50 to 74, regardless of duration (one to three months, four to 12 months, or more than 13 months). They think that structural changes in breast tissue caused by breastfeeding may protect against cancer.

Breastfeeding for two or more years may reduce your risk of developing breast cancer by 50 percent, according to a study of women in China conducted by a Yale researcher. The researcher found a 50 percent reduction in breast cancer risk among those women who breastfed for more than 24 months per child, compared with women who breastfed their children for less than 12 months.

Breastfeeding helps you lose weight
Researchers from the School of Public Health at the University of Michigan studied 110 women, aged 20 to 40, all of whom gained about 35 pounds during pregnancy. Monitoring the women's weight at several intervals from birth to 18 months afterwards, the researchers found that those who breastfed lost weight more rapidly than their non-breastfeeding counterparts. After 18 months, though, the rate of weight loss was almost the same for the two groups.