Breast milk fights stomach infections
Infants who are extensively breast-fed for the first six months of life are less likely to have gastrointestinal problems.
Infants who are extensively breast-fed for the first six months of life are less likely to have gastrointestinal problems. But, they're more likely to be deficient in iron, and therefore at risk of anaemia.
Iron deficiency (ID) is prevalent among infants worldwide and a strategy to address ID is to feed iron-fortified formula, but this may create risk for gastrointestinal (GI) infection.
To investigate the relationship between infant feeding practices, iron status, and likelihood of a GI infection in the first six months of life, researchers from Canada compared a formula-fed group of about 50 babies with 55 partially breast-fed and 49 predominantly breast-fed infants from birth through six months. The mothers were asked about the episodes of GI infections among their children. Blood samples of the infants at 6 months were taken to check for the iron status.
It was found that 18 percent of the infants in the predominately breast-fed group had GI infections as compared to the 33 percent of the partially breast-fed or formula-fed infants. However, the predominately breast-fed infants were more likely to have low iron levels. While just 4 percent of those in the partially breast-fed or formula-fed groups had iron deficiency, 22 percent of the mostly breast-fed babies did.
It was also found that breast-fed babies didn't become anaemic if their cords were not cut too soon. Delaying the cut for as little as two minutes can help improve the baby's iron status.
Despite the higher risk of iron deficiency and potential anaemia, the researchers recommend babies to be exclusively breast-fed during the first six months of life because iron deficiency is generally treatable with supplements while GI infections can be serious and even fatal.
The Journal of Nutrition
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