(photo credit: ING IMAGE/ASAP)
Breastfeeding a baby for at least six months can significantly reduce the risk of it contracting leukemia years later, according to the latest research published in The BMJ (British Medical Journal).
The information was publicized by Meuhedet Health Services, the country’s third-largest health fund – to mark World Breastfeeding Week being held this week.
WBW is an annual celebration held August 1 to 7 in more than 120 countries, with hundreds of events worldwide. This is the 25th year it is being held, at the initiative of the World Health Organization, UNICEF and other organizations. Although it focuses especially on the developing world where women may be making baby formula with polluted water and in suboptimal conditions, the awareness week is meant to encourage mothers in developed countries as well to breastfeed to benefit their own and their babies’ health.
The week advocates exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life, which yields tremendous health benefits, providing critical nutrients, protection from deadly diseases, such as pneumonia, and fostering growth and development.
The conclusion about leukemia was reached with a meta-analysis of 18 different studies carried out by The BMJ and the Royal College of Nursing Institute in London.
Mali Kusha, Meuhedet’s chief nurse, said mother’s milk is supremely important to the health of both full-term and premature infants, reducing the prevalence of disease and death. New mothers who are reluctant to breastfeed after delivery should be encouraged and counseled by breastfeeding counselors in the hospital obstetrics departments and elsewhere, she said.
Kusha added that breastfeeding empowers the woman and promotes bonding with the infant during the first months after delivery. The physical contact also improves the baby’s vital signs.
The leukemia meta-analysis included data on babies born between 1960 and 2014 and looked at 18 kinds of blood cancer in 10,292 infants. The fact that mothers breastfed their babies lowered the risk of contracting the cancer by nearly 20%.
If a woman delivers by cesarean section, nursing can relieve the pain after surgery.
Women who breastfed at least two months after such surgery had less than a third of the pain and much less bleeding, on average, than women who bottle-fed after the operation. Breastfeeding women also have a reduced risk of infections, anemia, breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes, osteoporosis and heart disease.
According to Kusha, studies have shown that breastfeeding also significantly cuts the risk of babies being hospitalized for respiratory, urinary and gastroenterological infections, as well as having fever or ear infections, suffering sudden infant death syndrome or eventually developing asthma and type I diabetes.
Studies on over half a million babies born between 1997 and 2009 confirmed this fact.
Other benefits, she continued, involved a lower risk of obesity and a rise in cognition and development of the neurological system.