Once a mother’s milk comes in—usually a few days after birth—breast-feeding continues to provide babies with lesser, but still beneficial immune-boosting antibodies. Breast-fed babies demonstrate a lower incidence of digestive problems, colic, respiratory illnesses and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Babies who are breast-fed for a few months may have a lower incidence of ear infections.
A baby can obtain all necessary nutrients from breast milk during the first six months of life. For the following six months, breast milk can provide at least half of a child’s necessary nutrients, and during the following year, a child can receive up to one-third of his or her necessary nutrients from breast milk. Once a baby begins eating solid food, breast milk can continue to enhance immunity, which can help during the “everything in my mouth” phase! Interestingly, the antibodies in breast milk become more concentrated as the amount of consumption decreases; therefore, babies and toddlers continue to receive health benefits, even as they nurse less frequently.
Breast-feeding can also have longer-reaching benefits. Because breast-fed babies can consume six times as much cholesterol as the average adult, the body learns to metabolize cholesterol and can potentially control cholesterol levels even in adulthood. Breastfeeding for a year or more can help protect your child from developing colitis, diabetes, asthma, Crohn’s disease and obesity later in life.
WHO has recommended breast-feeding exclusively for six months, and then continuing to supplement a child’s diet with breast milk until he or she is at least two years old. Understandably, breast-feeding can be more difficult than expected for some mothers. For this reason, the Surgeon General has encouraged employers, friends and family members to educate themselves in order to better support nursing mothers. Lactation consultants and support groups like ]]>La Leche League]]> can help, too.
WHO and UNICEF have recommended beginning to breast-feed within an hour after a baby is born.