Breastfeeding is an important stage in a child’s upbringing. Natural milk from a mother is filled with healthy nutrients pertinent to a child’s healthy development. In addition to containing all the vitamins and nutrients your baby needs in the first six months of life, breast milk is packed with disease-fighting substances that protect your baby from illness
Breastfeeding protects your baby from a long list of illnesses: Numerous studies from around the world have shown that stomach viruses, lower respiratory illnesses, ear infections, and meningitis occur less often in breastfed babies and are less severe when they do happen. Exclusive breastfeeding (meaning no solid food, formula, or water) for at least six months seems to offer the most protection.
Your breast milk is specifically tailored to your baby. Your body responds to pathogens (virus and bacteria) that are in your body and makes secretory IgA that’s specific to those pathogens, creating protection for your baby based on whatever you’re exposed to.
Breastfeeding’s protection against illness lasts beyond your baby’s breastfeeding stage, too. Breastfeeding can reduce a child’s risk of developing certain childhood cancers. Scientists don’t know exactly how breast milk reduces the risk, but they think antibodies in breast milk may give a baby’s immune system a boost.
Breastfeeding may also help children avoid a host of diseases that strike later in life, such as type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and inflammatory bowel disease. In fact, preemies given breast milk as babies are less likely to have high blood pressure by the time they’re teenagers.
For babies who aren’t breastfed, researchers have documented a link between lack of breastfeeding and later development of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Breastfeeding can protect your baby from developing allergies: Babies who are fed a formula based on cow’s milk or soy tend to have more allergic reactions than breastfed babies.
Immune factors such as secretory IgA (only available in breast milk) help prevent allergic reactions to food by providing a layer of protection to a baby’s intestinal tract.
Without this protection, inflammation can develop and the wall of the intestine can become “leaky.” This allows undigested proteins to cross the gut where they can cause an allergic reaction and other health problems.