Whether a mother breastfeeds her baby or not is an emotionally loaded topic, but regardless of opinions, there is no denying the benefits of breastfeeding

It’s not always obvious, but snide remarks or eye-rolling are just some of the subtle ways in which our society humiliates breastfeeding mothers. 

According to the Association for Dietetics in South Africa (ADSA) breastfeeding wherever and whenever a baby gets hungry is perfectly legal and deserves to be fully supported. In contrast, shaming moms into desperately breastfeeding their babies or expressing breastmilk in cold toilet cubicles and cramped cars in parking lots is not supportive of moms or their children.

“More shops, restaurants and other public spaces need to declare their support for breastfeeding mums to normalise breastfeeding. All workplaces need to have a policy around support for breastfeeding mothers and take action to support breastfeeding mums returning to work,” says ADSA dietitian and a breastfeeding mom, Nazeeia Sayed.

As we celebrate World Breastfeeding Week (1 – 7 August), let’s consider just a few of the many proven benefits of breastfeeding for moms and their babies:

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1. Breastfeeding reduces mothers’ risk of stroke

Breastfeeding may reduce your risk of suffering from a stroke later life.

A study from the University of Kansas School of Medicine found stroke risk among women who breastfed their babies was on average 23 percent lower in all women.

Interesting, they found that breastfeeding lowered the risk by 48 percent in black women and 21 percent in white women. What’s more, they found that the longer the reported length of breastfeeding, the greater the reduction in risk.

Strokes are the fourth leading cause of death among women aged 65 and older.

2. Breastfeeding boosts baby’s immune system

According to Dr Leneque X Lindeque, an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising at Netcare Alberlito Hospital, breastmilk assists with the transfer of the mother’s immune system and fills an ‘immunological gap’ while the infant’s immune system is still immature.

She says that breastfed babies are less likely to develop allergies, with research further indicating a better antibody response to vaccines. Your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is also reduced by about half.

“Incidences of pneumonia, colds and viruses as well as gastrointestinal infections such as diarrhoea are greatly reduced. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers are also less likely to occur in breastfed infants,” says Dr Lindeque.

A study by the University of Helsinki study found that breastfeeding helps protect babies from antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

They found that breastfeeding reduced the number of resistant bacteria in the infant gut.

According to research, antibiotic-resistant bacteria are one of the greatest global threats to human health and could cause more deaths than cancer by 2050.

Breast milk also contains sugars in the milk which provide sustenance for the beneficial infant gut bacteria, such as Bifidobacteria, which are used as probiotics.

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