Can Breastfeeding Help You To Live Longer?

Can Breastfeeding Help You To Live Longer?

There are many factors which influence our life expectancy.

These include access to and the quality of health care, genetics, living conditions, lifestyle choices and diet.

The relative importance of each of these factors in determining life expectancy is debatable.

Can Breastfeeding Help You To Live Longer?

Since there are so many factors that can impact our health in the long term, it’s incredible that research still shows that how we are fed as a baby (and whether we breastfeed our own children) is a factor which can influence our long term health.

So, can breastfeeding help you to live longer? Here are 3 facts which suggest it can.

#1: Formula-Fed Babies Have Different Microbiomes

One exciting area of emerging research is about how a resilient gut microbiome is important for our health. A resilient gut microbiome is one that is more diverse and less likely to shift towards unhealthy bacteria.

A loss of gut microbiome resilience has been observed in a number of diseases including obesity, diabetes, metabolic syndrome, autoimmune diseases and allergy.

In its early stages the gut microbiome is highly plastic (meaning it can be easily altered) and influenced by the effects of early life events.

As the baby develops, the gut microbiome loses its plasticity and becomes more resistant to change.  This may ‘lock in’ an ideal (or non-ideal) gut microbiome well into adulthood.

It seems likely that what happens in our early years (such as how we are fed as babies) may have the biggest impact on the development of our gut microbiome and hence our long term health.

There are significant differences in the bacteria that are in the guts of breastfed babies compared to formula fed babies.

Breastmilk has the perfect mix of probiotics (the bacteria) and prebiotics (the food for the bacteria) to help a baby develop a healthy gut microbiome. In fact, the third most abundant component in breastmilk are a prebiotic called oligosaccharides and breastmilk has more than 200 kinds!

Breastfed babies take in bacteria from the mother’s skin and in her milk. These bacteria are the beneficial type which make home in the gut and on the skin, helping to keep the baby healthy.

#2: Premature Deaths Result From Suboptimal Breastfeeding Rates

Research has found that current breastfeeding rates in the US are associated with an excess of 3,340 premature maternal and child deaths when compared to a situation where most mothers breastfed according to what leading health organisations recommend.

Leading health organisations (such as the American Academy of Pediatrics and Australia’s National Health and Medical Research Council) recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for at least one year thereafter.

Almost 80% of the 3,340 premature deaths were mainly found to be maternal and due to heart attack, breast cancer and diabetes.

Excess child deaths were mainly due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and necrotising enterocolitis, a serious intestinal disease.

#3: Existing Global Breastfeeding Rates Prevent About 20,000 Annual Breast Cancer Deaths

The Lancet series on breastfeeding found existing global rates of breastfeeding prevent almost 20,000 annual breast cancer deaths compared with a scenario in which no women breastfed.

This study also found that 823,000 annual deaths in children younger than five years would be saved in 75 high-mortality low and middle income countries in 2015 if breastfeeding was scaled up to near universal levels.

So, it does seem that breastfeeding is one factor which can help you live longer!

If you weren’t breastfed or didn’t breastfeed your children, there are still many things you can do to influence your health in a positive way such as by exercising, not smoking and eating well.

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Renee Kam is a mother of two daughters, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), a physiotherapist, author of 'The Newborn Baby Manual' and an Australian Breastfeeding Association Counsellor. In her spare time, Renee enjoys spending time with family and friends, horse riding, running and reading.

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