Fewer mothers are breast-feeding these days than at any other time in history, and those who are do so for much shorter periods of time. Complete books have been written extolling the many benefits of breast feeding. In addition to providing the perfect nutritional components for proper growth and development, breast feeding also conditions and strengthens the immune system and improves a child's overall psychological development. Babies who are breastfed have also exhibited significantly higher problem-solving ability than compared to infants receiving common man-made formula.
Much of its nutritional superiority comes from the fact that mother's milk is rich in DHA. Current baby formulas are seriously deficient in this and other essential fatty acids. The milk from well-fed mothers can have as much as thirty times more DHA and five times more arachidonic acid than that of commercial infant formulas.
A nursing mother can increase the essential fatty acids and DHA levels of her milk by adding fresh fish, nuts, seeds, fresh ground whole grains and legumes to the diet. I wouldn't recommend that nursing mothers or children under the age of five take fish oil or fish oil-derived DHA supplements. Fish oil is higher in EPA than DHA, and the EPA might compete and take the place of DHA in nerve-cell membranes. Also, when essential fatty acids are increased in the diet, it's important to take a multi-nutrient rich in antioxidants to help protect the acids from being destroyed.
Infant formula, even "enriched" formula, doesn't come close to providing the benefits of mother's milk. Besides the strong psychological and immune-enhancing benefits, breast-feeding provides a parent one of the only proven opportunities to increase a child's intelligence.
According to a report by the World Health Organization, 1.5 million infant deaths a year could be prevented if mothers would breast feed their children exclusively for the first six months of life and then continue to breast feed along with other foods for two years.
Physicians, hospitals and governments are aware of the problem, and an international agreement has been in place for some time now to restrict the promotion of formula use. Obviously it isn't being enforced, and pediatricians and hospitals continue to dispense complimentary formula to new mothers. As a result, we're not just "dumbing" our own children, we're hurting the rest of the world by spreading our pitiful dietary habits. Historians will no doubt look back at this time in amazement.
Now it's your turn: Did you breastfeed?