The benefits of breastfeeding have been widely reported with the latest study showing that it could almost half the risk of an asthma attack.
Research conducted by the University of Amsterdam found that asthma sufferers who were fed breast milk are 45 percent less likely to experience uncontrollable wheezing, coughing and breathlessness.
The study was published in the journal, Paediatric Allergy and Immunology. Data was analysed from a group of 960 children aged 4 to 12 years old who were using regular asthma medication. A questionnaire completed by the children’s parents recorded whether or not they had breastfed.
Lead author of the study Dr Anke Maitland van der Zee said: “Although in our study breastfeeding was shown to be a protective factor for asthma exacerbations, it is still unclear whether there is a causal relation between breastfeeding and asthma exacerbations; however the relation might be explained by the influence of breastfeeding on the immune system.”
“Changes in the composition and activity of the gut microbiome in early life can influence the immune system, and these changes might indirectly lead to changes in asthma in later life.”
“Further prospective research is warranted to confirm this association and to clarify the underlying mechanisms.”
Good for Baby, Good for Mum
It’s not just babies that can reap the benefits from breastfeeding. The short-term effects such as weight loss and lower blood pressure after pregnancy have long been heralded by medical professionals.
Research has also shown that it can help reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer and other chronic diseases such as endometriosis. There are also long-term benefits for mums against killers such as heart disease and strokes, according to a study.
Observational research published in the American Heart Association journal found that compared to women who had never breastfed, mothers who breastfed their babies had 9 percent lower risk of heart disease and an 8 percent lower risk of having a stroke.
It also discovered that mothers who breastfed each of their babies for two years or more, the risk of heart disease was lowered by 18 percent and 17 percent lower for a stroke risk than those mothers who hadn’t breastfed.
On top of this, the research found that for each additional 6 months of breastfeeding per baby was associated with a 4 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 3 percent lower risk of a stroke.
Data from around 300,000 Chinese women was studied, which also included detail about their reproductive history and lifestyle.
Co-author of the study, Sanne Peters, Ph. D, a research fellow at the University of Oxford in the United Kingdom said:
“Although we cannot establish the causal effects, the health benefits to the mother from breastfeeding may be explained by a faster “reset” of the mother’s metabolism after pregnancy. Pregnancy changes a woman’s metabolism dramatically as she stores fat to provide the energy necessary for her baby’s growth and for breastfeeding once the baby is born. Breastfeeding could eliminate the stored fat faster and more completely.”
Authors also noted that mothers who breastfeed may also engage in healthier behaviours that lower the risk of cardiovascular disease.
Proper Breastfeeding Support ‘Crucial’
The discussion of formula vs. breastfeeding continues to be a hot debate, with many women feeling pressured to breastfeed or shamed for publicly doing so. So it comes as no surprise that a survey found that less than half of women continue to breastfeed after two months.
In March 2017, the survey of 500 women for Public Health England found that fears about breastfeeding included embarrassment about feeding in front of strangers, breastfeeding preventing them from taking medication and concerns that it could be painful.
Almost three-quarters of women start breastfeeding when their child is born, but this drops to 44% within 6 to 8 weeks. PHE recommends that women breastfeed for at least 6 months.
Start4Life, through PHE, has now launched a new interactive program that helps parents and parents-to-be called Breastfeeding Friend (BFF) Chat Bot. It is accessed through Facebook messenger and provides support to mothers any time of day or night to help make breastfeeding a better experience. It will also work to dispel myths and help alleviate concerns mums have.
PHE’s chief nurse Viv Bennett said: “Breastfeeding, while natural, is something that all mums learn by doing. Mums tell us that after the first few weeks breastfeeding becomes easier, so proper support is crucial at this time, which is where our BFF is designed to help.”
“We can help women feel comfortable breastfeeding their baby wherever they are. Creating a wider culture of encouragement and support will help make a mother’s experience all the more positive.”
Where Can You Get Support?
If you are struggling to breastfeed and not sure where you can get support, then the Breastfeeding Network provides some information where you can find help.
Nationally there is the Association of Breastfeeding Mothers which also has UK breastfeeding support groups available.
Baby Cafe also provides a free drop-in offering support for pregnant and breastfeeding mums and their families, whatever stage of their breastfeeding journey.