The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Mothers should continue to breastfeed their children beyond the age of six months, until they are two years of age or older, at the same time providing them with safe and appropriate complementary foods to meet their evolving nutritional requirements.
Well-nourished women do not show any benefits from energy or protein supplementation in their diet. The Committee of EPSGHAN, recommends supplementation of breast-fed infants (or their breast-feeding mothers) with vitamin B12 if lactating mothers follow a vegan diet.
Breast milk contains a balance of essential nutrients and specific bioactive components such as growth factors or immune factors that compensate for immaturities in the neonatal immune and digestive systems and protect infants against invasive infections. The composition of breast milk highly varies throughout the lactation cycle, throughout the day, with maternal diet and length of gestation, and is believed to match with the infant needs.
The cells, hormones, and antibodies in breastmilk help protect babies from illness. This protection is unique and changes to meet your baby’s needs. Research suggests that breastfed babies have lower risks of:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Ear and respiratory infections
- Sudden infant death syndrome
- Gastrointestinal infections (diarrhea/vomiting
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in preterm infants
Breastfeeding also benefits mothers. It can prevent breast cancer, improve birth spacing, and might reduce a woman’s risk of diabetes, high blood pressure and ovarian cancer.