A study by Greek researchers shows that if babies are exclusively breastfed for 6 months, then they will have fewer infections and if they do pick them up,they're likely to be less severe.
I would theorise that this benefit goes on well beyond the six months - after all, antibodies from the mother continue to find their way into her milk for as long as that milk is being made so it's clear that there will be some protective benefit.
It seems to me very strange that women naturally produce a bug busting, nutritious substance that meets all their baby's needs, yet lack of practical support and cultural obstacles means only 1 in 5 babies are still nursing at 6 months.
This article from the Ecologist outlines the case for much stronger measures to support breastfeeding and restrict the activities of formula companies. Written in 2006, it cites that formula companies spend £20 per newborn on advertising while the NHS spends just 14 pence per baby on promoting breastfeeding.
It' calls for the same sorts of measures that were introduced across Scandinavia in the 70s and which have since achieved much higher breastfeeding rates from the same sort of base as our's;
"We must also stop making compromises. Government health policies such as, say, in the UK and US, which aim for 75 per cent of women to be breastfeeding on hospital discharge, are little more than paying lip service to the importance of breastfeeding.
Most of these women will stop breastfeeding within a few weeks, and such policies benefit no one except the formula manufacturers, who will start making money the moment breastfeeding stops.
To get all mothers breastfeeding, we must be prepared to:
Ban all advertising of formula including follow-on milks
Ban all free samples of formula, even those given for educational or study purposes
Require truthful and prominent health warnings on all tins and cartons of infant formula
Put substantial funding into promoting breastfeeding in every community, especially among the socially disadvantaged, with a view to achieving 100-per-cent exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life
Fund advertising and education campaigns that target fathers, mother sin-law, schoolchildren, doctors, midwives and the general public
Give women who wish to breastfeed in public the necessary encouragement and approval
Make provisions for all women who are in employment to take at least six months paid leave after birth, without fear of losing their jobs.
Such strategies have already proven their worth elsewhere. In 1970, breastfeeding rates in Scandinavia were as low as those in Britain. Then, one by one, the Scandinavian countries banned all advertising of artificial formula milk, offered a year’s maternity leave with 80 per cent of pay and, on the mother’s return to work, an hour’s breastfeeding break every day. Today, 98 per cent of Scandinavian women initiate breastfeeding, and 94 per cent are still breastfeeding at one month, 81 per cent at two months, 69 per cent at four months and 42 per cent at six months. These rates, albeit still not optimal, are nevertheless the highest in the world, and the result of a concerted, multifaceted approach to promoting breastfeeding.
What we are doing at the moment is failing women and their babies. Of those who give up breastfeeding within the first six weeks, 90% did so because of problems rather than because they wanted to. With appropriate support, the overwhelming majority of them could continue. Generations of women feel guilty because for some reason they weren't able to feed their babies themselves when in fact it was the information they were given by the health professionals - for example that babies needed to eat every 4 hours and no more - that led to them not producing enough milk. We've moved on from that now a bit, but we have not made nearly enough progress. It's time to take more radical action.
There is a group on Facebook called "I make milk,what's your superpower?" It has a point, yet we prefer to allow commercial interests to market almost unfettered a much inferior alternative.
Professor Stewart Forsyth, one of the doctors behind the Dundee infant feeding study concluded that
"Breastfed children from lower socio-economic groups had better outcomes than formula fed children from more affluent families"Study after study confirms the benefits of breastfeeding and still we don't take the radical action necessary to support it in a meaningful way. That makes me very angry.