A study has shown the long term health benefits of breastfeeding newborns.
The researchers in the study published in open access journal, Allergy, said though breastfeeding is known to be associated with better health outcomes in infancy and throughout adulthood, their study provides new insight into future benefits of breastfeeding – it prevents disorders of the immune system later in life.
According to the researchers, previous research has shown that babies receiving breastmilk are less likely to develop asthma, obesity, and autoimmune diseases later in life compared to those who are exclusively formula-fed.
They, however, said in the new study led by the University of Birmingham and Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, United Kingdom,
“Up until now, the immunological mechanisms responsible for these effects have been very poorly understood. In this new study, researchers have for the first time discovered that a specific type of immune cells — called regulatory T cells — expand in the first three weeks of life in breastfed human babies and are nearly twice as abundant as in formula-fed babies. These cells also control the baby’s immune response against maternal cells transferred with breastmilk and help reduce inflammation.”
The study also revealed that specific bacteria, called Veillonella and Gemella, which support the function of regulatory T cells, are more abundant in the gut of breastfed babies.
Senior author of the study and researcher at the University of Birmingham, Gergely Toldi, said,
“The influence of the type of milk received on the development of the immune response has not previously been studied in the first few weeks of life.
“Prior to our research, the outstanding importance and the early involvement of this specific cell type in breastfed babies was unknown.”
Toldi who is a Consultant Neonatologist at Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS Foundation Trust, added,
“We hope this invaluable new insight will lead to an increase in rates of breastfeeding and will see more babies benefit from the advantages of receiving breastmilk.”
The study, according to the researchers is the culmination of a unique three-year research project analysing data from 38 healthy mothers and their healthy babies.
16 out of the 38 babies (42 per cent) were exclusively breastfed for the duration of the study, while nine babies received mixed feeding, and 13 babies were exclusively formula-fed.
According to the World Health Organisation, exclusive breastfeeding has many health benefits for both the mother and infant.
“Breastfeeding protects against diarrhoea and common childhood illnesses such as pneumonia, and may also have longer-term health benefits for the mother and child, such as reducing the risk of overweight and obesity in childhood and adolescence,”
Speaking in an interview with PUNCH HealthWise, President, Nutrition Society of Nigeria, Dr. Bartholomew Brai, said breast milk contains all the nutrients an infant needs in the first six months of life.
To maximise the benefits of breastfeeding, Dr. Brai, a lecturer in the Department of Biochemistry at the Federal University, Oye-Ekiti, Ekiti State, asked the government to elongate maternity leave to almost or cover six-month exclusive breastfeeding period through policy/law that would be enforced.
“There should be adequate provision of food at home; the breastfeeding mother should be given enough rest as well.
“Situations that could lead to anxiety, worry and stress should be avoided to prevent complicating the stress of exclusive breastfeeding,”