To the outrage of breastfeeding campaigners and probably the utter confusion of most women with small babies, scientists today advocate rewriting the rulebook to drop the current guidance that says mothers should breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of their child's life. It was when the World Health Organisation announced that exclusive breastfeeding for six months was best for babies. But today, in the British Medical Journal, doctors from several leading child health institutes say the evidence for the WHO guidance was never there — and that failing to start weaning babies on to solids before six months could be harmful.
Inthe New York Times published an editorial paywall on the importance of promoting breastfeeding in the developing world. A reader—and health care worker—responded by writing in a letter to the paper voicing a then-common argument in support of breastfeeding. Twenty-five years later, the American Academy of Pediatrics AAP advises that infants consume nothing but breast milk for the first six months of life and continue to breastfeed until at least their first birthday.
Breastfeeding may be an ancient practice but we are learning new things about it all the time. My colleagues and I, for instance, have recently found that the lactating breast has the amazing ability to help fight infections affecting the mother as well as those experienced by the baby. This protects babies from infections at a time when their own immune system is still immature.
However, many mothers need practical support with positioning their baby for breastfeeding and making sure their baby is correctly attached to the breast. Breastfeeding takes time and practice for both mothers and babies. Breastfeeding is also time intensive, so mothers need space and support at home and work. Many mothers experience discomfort in the first few days after birth when they are learning to breastfeed.
Curious about breast-feeding beyond infancy? Know the benefits, the role breast milk plays in an older baby's diet and how to handle others' opinions on the topic. If you plan to continue breast-feeding your baby you might have questions about the process.
Breastfeeding and vaccinating your baby will help protect them from a serious illness. Antibodies and nutrients pass from mother to baby through breastmilk. The immune system is a network of cells and proteins that defends the body against infection.
In general, it is safe for breastfeeding women to receive a vaccination should it be needed. If unsure, each mother should check with her health care provider for information about a particular vaccination. Vaccination recommendations for babies are consistent regardless of whether a baby is breastfed or not.
How long to continue breastfeeding for is a personal decision for each family to make. The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding i. Read here about what breastfeeding provides at the different ages and stages of your baby's life. Even if breastfeeding has not worked out as you had planned, you can be reassured that even a few days of breastmilk has been important for your baby.
Doctors have long known that infants who are breast-fed contract fewer infections than do those who are given formula. Until fairly recently, most physicians presumed that breast-fed children fared better simply because milk supplied directly from the breast is free of bacteria. Formula, which must often be mixed with water and placed in bottles, can become contaminated easily.
Previously it was thought that immunity against illness is passed from mothers to infants only during the time they are breastfed, this protection ending when breastfeeding stops. However, research by scientists published today in Science Advances has found that the transfer of immunity can be long-term, beyond the period of breastfeeding. The study also showed that this protection is driven by the transfer of immune cells and is completely independent of antibodies.