Research shows women who breastfeed their newborn babies are helping to nurture good health in them. The Henry Ford Health System reported on Feb. 21, 2015, breastfeeding and other factors help to shape the immune system very early in life. Researchers at Henry Ford Hospital say that breastfeeding and other factors have an influence on a baby’s immune system development and susceptibility to allergies and asthma by what’s present in their gut.
Christine Cole Johnson, Ph.D., MPH, chair of Henry Ford’s Department of Public Health Sciences and principal research investigator, says these findings help to support the so-called hygiene hypothesis theory that exposure to microorganisms in early childhood affects the immune system’s development and onset of allergies. The microbiome in the gut is known to play a significant role in immune system development which is believed to contribute to many diseases such as autoimmune diseases, circulating disorders, obesity, and pediatric allergies and infection.
Dr. Johnson says we now know why a sterile environment is not good for babies. Research shows that exposure to microorganisms, or bacteria, during the first few months after birth actually helps to stimulate the immune system. If exposures to bacteria are minimized in babies the immune system will not develop optimally.
This research found that breastfed babies at one month and six months had distinct microbiome compositions in comparison to non-breastfed babies. Immune system development may be influenced by these distinct compositions. It has been observed breastfed babies at one month were at lowered risk of developing allergies to pets. Also asthmatic kids who had nighttime coughing or flare-ups had a distinct type of microbiome composition during the first year of their life.
The researchers observed that a baby’s gut microbiome patterns are also influenced by other factors including a mother’s race/ethnicity, the gestational age of a baby at birth, caesarean section versus vaginal delivery, the presence of pets in the home, and prenatal and postnatal exposure to tobacco smoke.
Medline Plus reports that breastfeeding offers many benefits to your baby. There is a good balance of nutrients in breast milk to help your infant grow into a toddler who is strong and healthy. There are also nutrients in breast milk which help protect your infant against some common childhood illnesses and infections.
It’s also worth noting that certain types of cancer may occur less frequently in mothers who have breastfed their babies. And as Womenshealth.gov points out the experience of breastfeeding offers the joyful experience of closeness and bonding with your newborn baby. It’s therefore a good idea for women who don’t have health problems to consider breastfeeding their babies for at least the first six months of life.