There is no debating the fact that breast is best. But recent studies have produced some astounding claims, namely that breastfeeding makes your child cleverer – and even improves their behaviour later in life. We spoke to Mohammed Miqdady, Head of Paediatric Gastroenterology Hepatology and Nutrition at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City; the Cleveland Clinic in Abu Dhabi, about the latest breast milk theories.
Breastfeeding improves a baby’s IQ. True or false?
True. A child’s IQ is determined by many factors, one of which is the genetic background of its parents, and another which is the education the child receives. However, nutrition does play a role too. Research shows us that breastfeeding can improve a child’s IQ by around three to five points. Although this isn’t a huge increase, it’s still a significant measurement.
Breastfeeding prevents obesity. True or false?
True. Studies have shown that breastfed babies in general have healthier weight gains than bottle-fed babies, and they go on to maintain a healthier weight later in life. While it’s true that there are many other factors to consider, such as lifestyle habits and the genetic background of the child, we can safely say that compared to formula, breast milk really does prevent obesity. It has a lower protein content than formula – but breast milk protein is also of a much higher quality. These proteins actually help programme the metabolism from a very early age, thus preventing obesity later on. This is why several manufacturers have decreased the quantity of protein in new formulas.
Children who are breastfed are better behaved. True or false?
True. Many behavioral studies have been carried out on breastfed and non-breastfed children. The findings have been quite significant in that breastfed babies actually do display better behaviour, and their psycho-motor skills are more advanced than their bottle fed counterparts. Why? Well, nobody knows for sure. It could be the nutrients the baby receives – for example, the long chains of polyunsaturated fatty acids in breast milk and maybe other nutrients, such as zinc and iron, could play a role in this. Equally, though, it could be the nurturing that takes place during breastfeeding. The physical bonding between the child and the mother does contribute to a baby’s neurological development. New formulas are now enriched with these important elements.
Babies who are bottle fed sleep through the night. True or false?
Partly true. Breast milk is much more easily digested – as though the baby has had a light meal. So, breast fed babies can feel hungrier than bottle fed babies. However, this isn’t always the case, and it’s not a reason to start bottle feeding, because some bottle fed babies can wake up just as much as their breastfed counterparts.
Bottle fed babies suffer more from colic and allergies. True or false?
True. Around two to five per cent of bottle fed babies have allergies to the formulas they are fed, and this can manifest itself as colic. In my experience, they tend to suffer more from digestive problems than breastfed babies, although breastfed babies can have colic as well.
Mixed feeding of half bottle and half breast still benefits the baby. True or false
True. Although the more you breastfeed, obviously the better it is. If you can’t do 100 per cent, then 90 per cent is better than 80 per cent, and 80 per cent is better than 70. If all a mum can manage is one feed a day then it is still better than no breast milk at all.
You can’t go back to exclusive breastfeeding once you’ve introduced formula. True or false?
False. But boosting your milk supply takes dedication. Many women think that once they’ve dropped a feed, they can’t improve their levels of breast milk because their supplies naturally decrease. But you can increase it if you persevere through actually feeding the baby more often, and stimulating the supply further with a breast pump between feeds once better production is established.
Many new formulas claim to have ‘added probiotics’. What’s all that about?
The latest studies show that breast milk contains probiotics, the good bacteria which aid digestion and strengthen the immune system. They play a major role in the overall development of the child because they contribute to the absorption of nutrients.
Breastfeeding advocates claim ‘every mother can breastfeed’. True or false?
The average, healthy mother will be able to produce enough milk for her child. The science of breastfeeding does prove that it’s a supply and demand system. At least 90 per cent of women can breastfeed successfully, if they persevere. There are, however, a small percentage of women who cannot feed their babies for medical reasons. Sometimes health problems can result in decreased breast milk. There are also certain medications that prevent women from breastfeeding, along with rare metabolic disorders. And, very small minorities of women have certain disorders of the breast that make breastfeeding impossible.
If you choose a bottle over the breast, you are disadvantaging your child. True or false?
True I’m afraid. Breastfeeding should always be the first option. But, the formulas we have today are far superior to those fed to babies a several years ago. And 10 years from now, I’m sure formulas will be better still. However, breast milk is still and probably always will be superior to formula. So yes, deciding to bottle feed, unless there is a medical reason for doing so, does come with its disadvantages. If a mother has to bottle feed, she should do so with the help of a paediatrician, who can help her choose a formula with advanced properties to be closer to breast milk.
Sheikh Khalifa Medical City, Abu Dhabi (02 819 0000)