In the last two decades, an enormous amount of research has focused on the value of breast feeding for infants, mothers, and society as a whole. Human breast milk is recognized as the best source of nutrition for young infants and it is now known that many constituents of human milk play multiple roles in the promotion of infant health and development. It also has had a number of non-nutritional benefits attributed to breast-feeding; including enhanced physiological and behavioral development and 90% protection against various acute and chronic illnesses. However, not all of these claims have been universally accepted. Evidence that breast feeding improves the health status of infants is greatest under adverse circumstances where alternative feeding methods may be inadequate or hazardous. In developing countries, breast feeding saves the lives of millions of infants each year by improving nutritional status and reducing morbidity.
Physiological advantages of breast-milk are that human milk contains a variety of hormones and hormone-like substances. Evidence from animal studies indicates that many milk hormones and growth factors are absorbed into the neonatal circulation and have important physiological functions in the infant.
Several components of human milk contribute to gastrointestinal development and maturation. In the laboratory, human milk was found to have growth promoting activity in cultured fetal intestinal cells (Ichiba et al. 1992).
Metabolic differences between breast fed and formula fed infants have been reported in the literature. Butte and coworkers (1990) reported that sleeping metabolic rate and body temperature were lower in breast fed infants than in formula fed infants during the first months of life. Compared with formula fed infants, breast fed infants have slower rates of gastric filling (Lucas et uf. 1981) and faster rates of gastric emptying (Cavell, 1981). Breast fed infants also differ from artificially fed infants in their hormonal response to feeds (Blackburn & Loper, 1992).
Human milk also has significant advantages on behavioral aspects of infants with several large studies in children who had been breast fed showed a small but statistically significant advantage over those who had been artificially fed in scores attained on a variety of cognitive tests.
Many studies have also found that breast-milk largely protects against acute infectious illnesses, gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases, diabetes, cancers and allergies.
The advantages do not just befall infants in breast-feeding. Health outcomes differ substantially for mothers as well as infants who formula feed compared with those who breastfeed, even in developed countries. A recent meta-analysis by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality reviewed this evidence in detail. For mothers, failure to breastfeed is associated with an increased incidence of pre-menopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, retained gestational weight gain, type 2 diabetes, and the metabolic syndrome.
These findings suggest that infant feeding is an important modifiable risk factor for disease for both mothers and infants. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) therefore recommends at least 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding for all infants
There is absolutely no statistical or observational data on the rate and effect of breast-feeding in the Kurdistan Region. However, it is especially important to increase breast-feeding rates in developing countries where nutritional needs of infants may be harder to meet due to economic circumstances. Studies have shown that mothers who breast-feed are able to provide 69% of the infants’ protein requirements at birth, and up to 51% at three months of age. 123% of calorie requirements can be supplied at birth, and up to 55% at three months. Conversely, in terms of grams protein per 100 kcal, 56% of requirements can be met at birth, rising to 95% at three months—figures which reflect the decreasing protein requirement with age. Socioeconomic factors determine nutritional status in developing countries and it is the responsibility of governments to ensure the health and adequate nutrition of mothers and infants.