Factors than enhance immunity are a miscellaneous assortment of compounds that perform a variety of functions. For instance, some accelerate growth of certain parts of the immune system. Researchers have noticed that people who were breast fed as infants are less likely to get diabetes, Crohn's disease and some types of cancer. They're not sure why this happens, but they think it's due to a healthier, breast fed immune system.
No More Ear Infections.
For most parents, ear infections have become part and parcel of raising small children. This is a very good example of an illness that can be avoided or minimized by the nutritious and immune supporting qualities of breast milk.
A dozen years ago a Finnish scientist conducted a landmark study that showed how breast feeding protects babies against ear infections. Using 237 healthy children as her subjects, the researcher found that the longer an infant was nursed the fewer ear infections he had. This was particularly true when a child was breast fed exclusively, that is without any supplementation. She also noted the earlier a baby got an ear infection, the more likely the problem became chronic. Babies fed only formula during the first few months are most susceptible to this happening.
There are a few reasons why nursing affects ear infections. First there is the immune boosting factors found in human milk. Whether a baby is exposed to viruses or bacteria that cause diarrhea or middle ear infections, mother's milk offers protection. Secondly, human milk contains substantial amounts of both DGLA and GLA, substances that help keep inflammation at bay.
When a baby is taken off the breast and given formula, she/he may develop an allergy or sensitivity to the cow's milk in formula. Other times, cow's milk merely irritates the Eustachian tube, the structure that connects the ear to the throat. It's possible for milk to regurgitate into the middle ear when a very young baby drinks formula from a bottle. Although not advisable, formula fed babies are more likely to be propped up with a bottle, a position that invites ear infections to occur.
While nursing protects children from middle ear infection most dramatically during their first year, the effects last until they are three years old, perhaps older.
There is no doubt that mother's milk keeps a baby physically fit. However, it's surprising to learn that breast feeding also enhances a child's intelligence.
A few years ago British researchers showed how feeding premature infants breast milk increased their IQs. This effect lasted at least until the child was a year and a half old (8). As a follow-up to this study, these investigators tracked 300 of these children until they were seven to eight years old. They found that breast milk's influence on intelligence was not only maintained, but children who were nursed had IQs 8.3 points higher than formula fed babies.
While many different factors could explain this difference such as parenting skills, education and genetics, it looks like the nutritional value of human milk is the reason. Infants, especially those born prematurely, have brains and nervous systems that are growing at a rapid rate. It's vital that babies receive adequate nutrients for proper neurological development. Breast milk provides this nutrition, some of which isn't in formula.
This research also showed the more breast milk a baby drank, the smarter he was. No doubt, how long a mother nurses her child also influences his intelligence. While this study focused on premature babies, we know that infants born at term also benefit neurologically from human milk -- albeit not to the same extent.