A RECENT commentary on emerging research has highlighted the critical role breastfeeding plays in providing early nutrition and preventing non-communicable diseases.
Associate Professor Donna Geddes and Dr Susan L Prescott, from the University of Western Australia, believe continuing research and health promotion is crucial given the dramatic rise of non-communicable diseases and the protection breastfeeding affords.
Their study focuses on the benefits of breast milk that contains, ‘a host of bioactive factors including hormones, growth factors, neuropeptides, and anti-inflammatory and immunomodula¬tory agents that compensate...for the immaturity of the human infant’.
“The major benefit is the infant’s increased protection from many short and long term diseases,” says A/Prof Geddes.
“For example, infants fed formula are 16 times more likely to experience diarrhoea than the breastfed infant.”
Breastfeeding is thought to guard against a wide variety of non-communicable diseases such as heart disease, metabolic disease (obesity and type 2 diabetes), cancer, aller¬gies and other immune diseases, asthma and chronic lung diseases, mental illness, and chronic liver and renal diseases.
Breastfeeding mothers feed on demand as they are unable to discern the volume of breast milk ingested at any one feed. It is believed the infant’s control of their milk intake is critical in the development of appetite control.
“Better appetite control leads to a decreased risk of obesity, which is a risk factor for diabetes,” says A/Prof Geddes.
“It is highly likely there are also components in breast milk that influence insulin response although this is far from clear at the moment.”
Breastfeeding exposes infants to a variety of tastes through the mother’s diet. This is thought to influence later taste preferences, as breastfed infants show a willingness to try a variety of foods.
“There is some speculation that the first milk may also program taste receptors which is also a fascinating concept,” says A/Prof Geddes.
Often overlooked are the advantages of breast feeding for the mother—rapid weight loss, protection from some breast cancers and ovarian cancer, better bone density and increased confidence.
“While the benefits of breast milk are well known, breastfeeding rates are still lower than ideal,” says A/Prof Geddes.
“Many women experience difficulties and wean well before six months and few reach the recommended two year period.”
The study entitled ‘Developmental Origins of Health and Disease: the Role of Human Milk in Preventing Disease in the 21st Century’ recommends increased funding for lactation research in Australia and more specifically, support for breastfeeding mothers whose children are under six months of age.