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ONE of the wonders of nature is the inherent ability of the mother after giving birth to produce milk and sustain her young by breastfeeding.

Interestingly, in human and among other mammals, the newborn comes with the instinct of sucking and searching for the nipple, and the mother’s breasts at that point in time, through a most sophisticated postpartum hormonal physiology, are generally ready to manufacture milk for the baby.

All this happens so naturally and so efficiently coordinated that we might deduce that breastfeeding not only provides nutrition for daily sustenance but more essential ingredients for long term survival of the species.

Evidently, the ancient history of breastfeeding in early humans (among homo sapiens or extinct species of hominids more than 2.4 million years ago) started with the very first baby of the very first couple on earth.

They had undoubtedly observed various animals around them breastfeeding their young.

During those times, when the mother died during childbirth or from disease or accident, the baby was left to die, unless the prevailing social dynamics at the area allowed “group nursing,” breastfeeding by other lactating women within the same tribe.

Wet nursing, where only one woman feeds the baby, was, and is practice even today in many cultures.

In the absence of lactating women, the motherless infant was fed animal milk.

Apparently “formula feeding” started then too and is not a modern invention.

It was in the 1800s when physicians and scientists started studies to find out the best baby food mixes and in 1867, the first commercial baby food created by Justus von Liebig came out.

Since then many other brands and types have been marketed.

The convenience of the formula, hyped up to be modern and better, attracted mothers who eventually chose them over breastfeeding.

As a result, more than 50 percent of the babies were fed baby formula by 1950.

Twenty years later, better-informed and more health-conscious women decided to “go back to the basic.”

Breastfeeding became popular once again, especially among the educated mothers.

The concepts and practices in feeding the baby have changed since the first newborn.

However, one fundamental scientific principle remains:

breastfeeding for at least two years, as recommended by the World Health Organization, or at least 12 months as practiced in the United States, confers great benefits to the child.

Tons and years of research have shown that mother’s breast milk is best.

It is the perfect food for her baby.

No commercial or animals’ milk can equal the quality of breast milk, the only one which contains valuable ingredients that boost the baby’s immune system, providing it antibodies that fight diseases, and is non-allergenic and less expensive.

Breastfeeding also strengthens the mother-child bonding, which studies have shown results in more secure children with 30 percent less behavioral and social problems when they start school.

Bottle feeding boosts obesity risk

Infants who are still bottle-fed at age two have increased risk of being obese by the time they reach 5, according to a new research involving 6,750 children in the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study, Birth Cohort, which included children born in 2001 in the United States.

Twenty-three percent of children who were still feeding off from a bottle at age 2 were obese by age 5 1/2, while only 16 percent of those who stopped using a bottle by age two were severely overweight.

Obviously, the bottle encouraged more uncontrolled calorie intake as reported in this study in The Journal of Pediatrics.

Authorities in nutrition for children suggest weaning them from the bottle around age 12 to 14 months, which will also avoid tooth decay from putting the child to bed with a bottle, besides iron-deficiency anemia.

Solid foods

Babies are introduced to solid foods at age 4 to 6 months, which will eventually be the main source of nutrition for the baby.

A one-year-old will usually require about 10 to 16 ounces of whole milk a day, supplemented by a variety of healthy table foods, like fish, vegetables and fruits.

Vegetable and fruit juices should be limited to 4 ounces a day, and the rest of the liquid should be filtered water.

For parents who have problems with weaning a child from the bottle, consultation with their pediatrician is recommended.

A transition from a bottle to a cup might help staging the withdrawal.

The ultimate goal

The Surgeon General of the United States in 2010 set the following goal: 75 percent of the babies breastfed when they leave the hospital; 50 percent of babies still on breast milk at 6 months of age, and 25 percent of babies still being breastfed AFTER 1 year of age.

The American Academy of Pediatrics in 1997 advocated breastfeeding “for at LEAST 12 months and THEREAFTER as mutually desired.”

Hopefully, all mothers will breastfeed their baby up at least age 6 months, preferably to age one, or even age two.

The countless benefits children derived from breastfeeding during those months of significant growth in their brain and all other organs in their body are immeasurable and priceless.

The natural powerful and magic ingredients in the mother’s milk can not be found in any supermarket or pharmacy at any cost.

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