By Kathy Driscoll –
The pandemic lockdown may have presented lots of challenges for stay-at-home-moms, but it also fostered some additional wellbeing habits and opportunities. Breastfeeding, for example, became an important mission for women like New York-based blogger Danyelle Dany, who appreciated the benefits to her baby’s health and decided to nurse her as long as possible. The ultimate aim is that her baby’s health and immune system would reap long-term benefits.
Dany apparently wasn’t alone in her thinking. During the pandemic, breastfeeding advocates reported increased interest in breastfeeding, while calls to La Leche League International hotlines were up significantly during 2020.
There’s good reason for breastfeeding whether it’s tied to the pandemic or not. Indeed, the wide-ranging benefits of breastfeeding range from reduced risk for developing many chronic conditions, including asthma and obesity to fewer respiratory illnesses, ear infections and much more.
“You see, the beauty in breastmilk is that it’s metabolized much differently from formula. Research shows that formula fed babies use the nutrients in formula less efficiently, so they’ll need more milk to meet their nutritional needs. Breastmilk changes in composition to meet baby growing needs. How’s that for some good ole’ liquid gold!,” she wrote in her blog, Napturallydany.
Three recent studies only add weight to the potential benefits for breastfed babies.
These children apparently score higher on neurocognitive tests than babies raised on formula, according to the Del Monte Institute for Neuroscience at University of Rochester Medical Center. After studying thousands of cognitive tests taken by 9 and 10-year-olds whose mothers reported they were breastfed, researchers discovered that the longer a child received mother’s milk, the higher they scored.
“Our findings suggest that any amount of breastfeeding has a positive cognitive impact, even after just a few months,” reported Daniel Adan Lopez, a PhD candidate at the center.
Another benefit appears to be lower blood pressure for children who were breastfed, even if only for a few days. The American Heart Association reports that its research indicates that by age three, children who were never breastfed had higher blood pressure levels compared to those who were for any length of time.
“This is the first study to evaluate the association of breastfeeding in the first days of life and blood pressure in early childhood,” noted Dr Kozeta Miliku, the study’s lead author. “Infants who received even a relatively small amount of their mother’s early breast milk, also known as colostrum, had lower blood pressure at 3 years of age, regardless of how long they were breastfed or when they received other complementary tools.”
Another gain from breastfeeding appears to be a lower risk of developing eczema, at least according to the Children’s National Health System, a nonprofit information and health facility. Its study reported that children exclusively breastfed for the first three months of life had significantly lower odds of having eczema at age 6 compared to those who weren’t breastfed.
Most babies in the U.S. are now breastfed at some point. The Centers for Disease Control, for example, reported that in 2020 that 83 percent of these infants have been breastfed at some point, while 57 percent are still breastfeeding at six months and 36 percent continue through at least 12 months.
Many argue these number could and should be higher. For all the benefits and growing interest in breastfeeding, advocates stress barriers to breastfeeding still remain. They maintain workplace policies need to be improved, more breastfeeding education and awareness has to be provided and one-on-one support from the healthcare system has to be increased.