Friday, September 26, 2008

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

I have recently begun to get lots of questions as to whether or not Bear is still nursing. When I say yes, he is still nursing, I get all sorts of responses. Recently, from an epidemiologist (someone who studies factors affecting the health and illness of populations), I got, “Good for you!” Obviously, she knows the benefits of nursing past a year. Mostly from women, especially moms who have nursed their kids, I get a pat on the back. But sometimes, I get a look that makes me wonder for a moment if I have 3 heads. And then I get several of the typical responses.

“When he can walk up & say, ‘I’m thirsty’, he needs to wean.”
“Nursing is for infants, not toddlers.”
“When he knows where to find the food, it’s time to wean.” Um, so you shouldn’t eat because you know where the kitchen is? Anyway…….

I’ve never really considered myself to be a lactivist. If I am in someone’s home and they would rather I breastfeed in a private place, I don’t have a problem doing that. It can be a bit annoying when a baby is young because you pretty much miss all the conversation, but that’s OK. I rarely nurse in public, especially now.

I suppose I could lie when asked, but that would be...well, dishonest! I just think people are uneducated when it comes to the benefits of breastfeeding beyond 6 months or a year. Yes, I know that we live in a society that has trouble with the fact that breasts were created to feed babies, not to be an object of sexual fantasies, but it’s still the truth.

This is also not a slam to moms who could not breastfeed at all or chose not to, nor is it a commentary on moms who chose to stop breastfeeding at 1 year. Rather than justifying my & my husband’s personal choices and why we believe, for our child, it is important to continue to breastfeed him, I’ve decided to let the following research (and Bible verses) speak for themselves. I also cannot figure out how to do a cut, so here it is, in its entirety. I welcome comments :)

Nursing isn’t just for food

It’s for comfort

"Rejoice with Jerusalem and be glad for her, all you who love her; rejoice greatly with her, all you who mourn over her. For you will nurse and be satisfied at her comforting breasts; you will drink deeply and delight in her overflowing abundance." For this is what the LORD says: "I will extend peace to her like a river, and the wealth of nations like a flooding stream; you will nurse and be carried on her arm and dandled on her knees. As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you; and you will be comforted over Jerusalem." Isaiah 66:10-13

There are major health benefits
If you nurse until 12 months:
You half the number of attacks of diarrhea, reduced the risk of respiratory infections, reduce the risks of allergy by 34%, and have significantly less eczema in babies.

If you nurse until 18 months:
You will shorten the length of ear infections by three days and reduce the risk of a prolonged attack [over 10 days] by 80 %, half the risk of childhood diabetes, and are less likely to get MS later in life.

If you nurse for 2 years and beyond:
It helps to protect them from pneumonia, prevents vitamin A deficiency and related Eye disorders, reduces the risk of heart disease, helps the teeth and jaws to develop correctly, reduces the risk of breast cancer by 25%, the risk of ovarian cancer, and the risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

Research has shown that second-year milk is very similar to the first-year milk nutritionally. Even after two years or more it continues to be a valuable source of protein, fat, calcium, and vitamins
Nursing toddlers between the ages of 16 and 30 months have been found to have fewer illnesses and illnesses of shorter duration. Extensive research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (IQ scores, grades in school) and breastfeeding has shown the greatest gains for those children breastfed the longest. The WHO recomends breastfeeding for two years for ALL babies. The American Academy of Pediatrics says, “it is recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least 12 months, and thereafter for as long as mutually desired.”
A US Surgeon General has stated that it is a lucky baby who continues to nurse until age two.

The immunities in breast milk have been shown to increase in concentration as the baby gets older and nurses less frequently, so older babies still receive lots of immune factors. A study from Bangladesh provides a dramatic demonstration of the effect these immunities can have. In this deprived environment, it was found that weaning children eighteen to thirty-six months old doubled their risk of death.

Other benefits and cultural facts:
It is well documented that the later that cow's milk and other common allergens are introduced into the diet of a baby, the less likelihood there is of allergic reactions.

Katherine Dettwyler, an anthropologist at Texas A&M University, notes that among nonindustrialized cultures in which breast-feeding is widespread, children are most commonly weaned between 3 and 5 years of age. Before the invention of infant formula in the 1920s, the practice of nursing well into the second and third years was commonplace in the United States as well. The breast-feeding patterns of primates also provide clues as to what nature intended, says Dettwyler. Among humans’ distant relatives, Dettwyler found that the weaning of offspring is very consistent: It is a function of the length of a species’ gestation and the eruption of the baby’s molars. Applying the same formula to human children, she adds, would suggest that the natural age for weaning in our species would be somewhere between 2 1/2 and 7 years old (I can see the jaws dropping now!)

Some other links:
Nursing beyond 1 year
A Bible study on breastfeeding


Paige said...

Brenna, you and I discussed this before Bear was even born. I think it's great that you are still nursing him and when you choose to stop is up to you and Bear. My durations varied by child as you know and given my druthers, I'd have gone to 18mos with each of them, but it wasn't meant to be. Keep your head high and forge ahead, you're married to a champion nurser anyway LOL

Brenna Kate Simonds said...

Hey, there :) I had no question that I'd have my family's support. I figure they've been there, done that ;) But thanks for expressing it!

ElephantKisses said...

Good for you Brenna! As you know I nursed Charlotte to three, nursed through pregnancy, tandem nurse and am now nursing my five month old. I think it's silly to stop nursing because the calendar says so. It has so many benefits for both mom and baby. Keep up the good work!