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Breast feeding boosts baby’s immunity,prevents celiac disease

Mother’s milk is best for the baby and the benefits of breastfeeding are well-established.

Written by Ishi Khosla |
August 18, 2012 2:42:36 am

Mother’s milk is best for the baby and the benefits of breastfeeding are well-established. Breast milk is natural,easy to digest and is the gold standard for infant nutrition. It contains the right balance of nutrients for the infant and helps boost the baby’s immunity. However,under certain circumstances you may need to consider formula feed.

Exclusive breastfeeding is typically recommended for the first six months,to be continued at least for one year in combination with solid foods. Breast milk is sterile and does not require boiling,and therefore retains the goodness of its nutrients. It also prevents infections common in formula fed babies due to poor hygiene and unsafe feeding practices. According to experts from the National Institute of Nutrition,Hyderabad,significant compromise is made on the infant’s health,as mother’s milk is substituted for formula milk due to various reasons in the first year of life when they are most vulnerable to infections. A recent study reported that only 69 per cent of Indians below two months get exclusive breastfeeding and between two and three months,exclusive breastfeeding falls to 51 per cent and declines to 28 per cent for five-month-old babies.

Besides optimal nutrition of carbohydrates (lactose),proteins,fats,iron and calcium,mother’s milk provides special immuno-boosting IgA and IgB factors not found in formula milk. These are believed to have life-long immunity benefits.

In fact,infant feeding practices have been found to impact several immunological conditions including celiac disease. Celiac disease is a condition where an individual is intolerant to gluten for life. Gluten is a protein found in cereals like wheat,oats,barley,rye and some others. A person suffering from celiac has to avoid these grains for life. Eating foods with gluten causes an immune reaction in the small intestines. This can damage the lining of the intestines and lower absorption of essential nutrients,leading to mal-absorption and nutritional deficiencies.

A Swedish study has revealed the relationship between infant feeding practices and celiac disease. A three-fold increase in celiac was seen among infants from mid 1980s to mid 1990s — virtually an unprecedented epidemic in children less than two years of age. Breastfeeding had been on a decline in Sweden during the 1980s. The study also showed a higher risk for celiac disease in infants who had infections.

It has also been found that fewer breast-fed children develop celiac disease,and when they do,it is at a later age. Research shows that the risk of developing celiac disease decreased by 63 per cent for children breast-fed for more than two months as compared to children breast-fed for less than two months.

Breastfeeding has also been seen to have a protective effect when performed while gluten containing foods were introduced to the infant. The gradual introduction of gluten foods like wheat into the diet of infants while they are still being breast-fed is believed to reduce the risk of celiac disease in early childhood and probably during the subsequent childhood period.

Weaning can begin at 6 months of age,when solid foods are typically introduced. Do not give your child cow’s milk until he/she is one year old. The timing of introduction of gluten (wheat,biscuits,sooji,etc) into the infant’s diet is also associated with the appearance of celiac disease. In a recent study,children exposed to foods containing wheat,barley,or rye (gluten-containing foods) in the first three months had a five-fold risk of celiac disease compared to children exposed to gluten-containing foods at four to six months. Additionally,large amounts of gluten at weaning are associated with an increased risk of developing celiac disease.

Another research shows that infants at “high risk” or have a family history,who eat nothing containing gluten until after their first year can delay the onset of celiac disease or,better yet,prevent it entirely. That there is hardly any evidence of celiac disease in predominantly rice-eating nations like Japan points towards gluten as an environmental trigger.

Ishi Khosla is a former senior nutritionist at Escorts. She heads the Centre of Dietary Counselling and also runs a health food store. She feels that for complete well-being,one should integrate physical,mental and spiritual health. According to her: “To be healthy should be the ultimate goal for all.”

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