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Breastfeeding Protects Infants From Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria

Analysis by Dr. Joseph Mercola

The simple act of breastfeeding could help prevent antibiotic-resistant infections that cause the deaths of more than 200,000 newborns annually, new research shows. The study, conducted at the University of Helsinki, found that infants who were breastfed for at least six months had a smaller number of resistant bacteria in their gut than babies who were breastfed for a shorter period or not at all. In other words, breastfeeding seemed to protect infants from such bacteria.

The amazing benefits of breastfeeding are so great that it’s impossible to mention them all in a single blog, but the important evidence here is that the health of your gut bacteria is associated with your ability to fight disease and infection. To that end, previous research links infant formula to a change in gut bacteria with a proliferation of those more commonly found in older children and adults.

There is no question that breast milk not only is a perfect food for the human infant, but has numerous benefits for moms, as well: For example, one study found that nearly 17 percent of women who lactated for a month or less had atherosclerotic plaques, a risk factor for heart disease, compared with less than 11 percent of those who breastfed for 10 months or longer.

From the babies’ standpoint, breastfed babies have fewer ear, respiratory, stomach, and intestinal infections than their formula-fed counterparts. But, perhaps even more remarkable, when a newborn is exposed to a germ, he or she will transfer it back to the mother while nursing.

The mother will then make antibodies to that particular germ and transfer them back to the baby at the next feeding, thereby speeding up the recovery process and promoting future immunity toward the organism, should it be encountered again.

These are just a few of the benefits of breastfeeding, but even so only 4 in 10 infants worldwide are exclusively breastfed. The global goal is to get 70 percent of infants exclusively breastfed for the first six months by 2030, and to achieve that, the World Health Assembly, which is the decision-making body of the WHO, introduced a nonbinding resolution this past spring to encourage breastfeeding and stress the health benefits of breastfeeding.

The resolution stressed that decades of research show breast milk is the healthiest choice, and urged governments to rein in inaccurate or misleading marketing of breast milk substitutes.

The bottom line is, contrary to what infant formula companies want you to think, breastfeeding has benefits for both child and mother, including supporting a child’s healthy gut microbiome, reduction in sudden infant death syndrome, improved cognitive development and, for the mother, reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer, cardiovascular disease and postpartum depression.

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