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Published on July 29, 2014

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Abington Health encourages breastfeeding and supports World Breastfeeding Week, August 1 – 7, 2014

For years, proponents have praised breast-feeding as being more beneficial than bottle-feeding. A recent study suggests that bottle-fed babies may not lag too far behind in terms of their health and development, raising questions among mothers who simply want to know what’s best for their baby. So does this new research change the game? 

According to Dr. Steven Shapiro, chair of Pediatrics at Abington Memorial Hospital, not at all. “Mother’s milk is without question [the] best for infants. Cow’s milk-based formulas, regardless of how professionally and thoughtfully they are prepared, are still derived in their entirety from cow’s milk.” 

During the study, researchers compared siblings who were fed differently during infancy in order to look at the health benefits in both breast-feeding and bottle-feeding. Based on their data, the benefits of breast-feeding appear to be overstated. As a result, researchers have suggested that the way in which a mother feeds her baby isn’t as significant as the internal family unit. This entails looking into other factors that affect a child’s health and development, such as childcare, maternity leave, school quality, housing, and employment. 

While there is little question that environmental stress will influence competence, intellect, behavior, and attachment of the infant, Dr. Shapiro stresses that breast-feeding provides more nutrition for an infant during her first few months, which is the most significant time of growth and development. 

“The content of breast milk as it applies to the newborn’s immune system has been well chronicled and includes many elements including lymphocytes [white blood cells] and immune globulin [antibodies that protect the body against diseases],” said Dr. Shapiro.  “Proteins and essential fats are structured for optimal absorption, which results in deposition of brown fat (as opposed to yellow fat) in the newborn. Brown fat has been shown to be essential for the proper and most efficient absorption of fats in the newborn.” 

In some cases, however, a mother might have no other choice but to bottle-feed her baby. This often happens when a mother’s milk supply is insufficient for proper growth, which can occur if the infant is large or if she has twins or triplets. 

“In any situation such as this, my advice to the mother is to develop a schedule that makes sense for herself and her family's needs and supplement with an appropriate formula when necessary,” said Dr. Shapiro. “I make it crystal clear that the infant benefits from any amount of breast milk that it can receive whether it be 50 percent or 99 percent.” 

If you have any questions about breast-feeding, be sure to speak with your physician or a lactation consultant.

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