A new study shows that breastfeeding definitely has protective benefits for baby’s immune system, reducing a baby’s chance of contracting infectious diseases. The caveat is that these benefits diminish if a baby isn’t fed breast milk exclusively for the first six months of life. Babies who were fed a combination of breast milk and formula showed little immunity advantage over those who were fed just formula.
This is the first study that I’ve seen showing the definitive benefits of breastfeeding exclusively over breastfeeding with some formula supplementation. And it has some definitive ramifications when it comes to maternal pressure…and guilt.
The study followed 926 infants born in Crete, Greece with access to the same level of medical care. Only 10% of the babies were still being exclusively breastfed at 6 months old. Those babies who were exclusively breastfed had lower rates of ear, respiratory, and thrush infections than the babies who were fed formula or a combination of formula and breast milk. The study also has implications about feeding babies solids. The current AAP recommendation is to introduce solids at 4 to 6 months, which would mean that babies only receive these immunity benefits when parents wait longer than is recommended.
But what I’m most concerned about is the implications for moms. We’ve known that supplementing with formula can interfere with a mom’s milk supply. But there hasn’t been much definitive research showing that combining breast milk with formula decreases the benefits of breast milk. The majority of breastfeeding moms do supplement with formula, whether it’s to give the baby enough to eat during the day while they’re at work or to give themselves a break at night. Will this change that, or just make moms feel worse about doing what they have to do?
photo: jessicafm / flickr