|Protection during breastfeeding||Protection after weaning||Protection in later life|
|GI and respiratory infections||GI and respiratory infections||Obesity|
|Urinary infections||Wheezing||Type 1 and 2 diabetes|
|Sepsis and meningitis||Coeliac disease||Leukaemia/Lymphoma|
|Atopic dermatits||Growth faltering||Inflammatory bowel disease|
|Food allergies||Visual acuity|
Breastfeeding can have a significant impact on the health of a neonate, child, and the adult they become in later life. A recent paper by The Lancet suggests that the deaths of 823'000 children and 20'000 mothers could be averted each year through universal breastfeeding. 2,3
This is the result of a combination of factors including fewer infections, protection against obesity and diabetes, and the cancer prevention element for mothers. The table below highlights some key diseases and the preventative effect of an infant who is receiving breastmilk.
Infant Macaque monkey breastfeeding. Lactation is a crucial and defining aspect of being a mammal.
Infant bottle feeding. A positive of bottle feeding is that it can give other family members an opportunity to be involved in the feeding of the infant. This can also be done, however, with expressed breast milk.
Both mothers and infants benefit from breastfeeding. 823'000 child and 20'000 maternal deaths could be prevented through universal breastfeeding. 2, 3
Figure 1 and 2. Show how the maternal mucosal immune system connects to maternal exocrine glands, including the mammary glands.
Are there any situations where breastfeeding or breastmilk is not recommended?
There are very few situations where a baby needs artificial formula milk rather than human milk, or where other milks might be important. These include:
1) Babies with rare metabolic disorders where specialised milk might be needed in order to avoid specific substances e.g. infants with galactosaemia who need to avoid lactose. Specialist advice is available from specialist dieticians.
2) Mothers receiving chemotherapy or very high dose steroids. However, breastfeeding is often possible with many chemotherapeutic drugs and steroids. Specialist advice is available.
3) Newborn babies who are at risk of hypoglycemia and where there is insufficient mother's own breastmilk. In these cases short term use of formula milk is not harmful for the infant. In some hospitals donated human milk might be used.
Further information relating to formula milk is available here: https://www.firststepsnutrition.org/infant-milks-health-workers
Why is breastmilk so important for an infant?
Reduction in mortality and morbidity
Table 1: Key diseases breastfed infants have greater protection against.