tofino health - the importance of breastfeeding

The Importance of Breastfeeding

by Dr. Verity Livingstone


Human milk is a remarkable and renewable resource, it cannot be duplicated. It is a living, changing fluid that continually adapts to the needs of the developing infant. It offers significant immunological, developmental and nutritional benefits. Babies who do not receive breast milk are at higher risk for gastrointestinal infections, ear and respiratory infections, childhood cancers such as leukemia, diabetes, obesity and lower intelligence and mothers who do not breastfeed have a higher rate of breast and ovarian cancers. These positive effects on mothers and babies remain despite political changes, climatic conditions, and environmental factors.

The World Health Organisation overwhelmingly supports the importance of breastfeeding even in a contaminated world when many chemicals find their way into a mother's body. Routine monitoring of chemicals in human milk confirm that environmental contaminants are present in the fat cells of everyone living in the area tested. This is a reason to eliminate toxins from the environment—not a reason to eliminate breastfeeding. Breastfeeding still offers advantages that outweigh the risks of ingesting possible contaminants. Indeed, the benefits of breastfeeding, which includes high levels of antioxidants, may prove to be essential to compensate for and outweigh the risks of toxic effects from the environment.

A discussion of this topic is incomplete without pointing out the nutritional inadequacies and detrimental health consequences of artificial feeding. While human milk has higher levels of some persistent organic pollutants than artificial baby milk, infant formula is not pollutant free and has been associated with higher levels of heavy metals, phytoestrogens and bacteria. There are many well-documented health risks to formula feeding. Batches of formula are recalled regularly due to manufacturing errors. Human milk, unlike manufactured formula, does not add to the ecological burden of the planet.

Virtually every infant born today already has a body burden of industrial chemicals. They are most vulnerable during the prenatal stage. It is impossible to reduce exposure to all chemical elements. However, for those who would like to reduce contact with chemicals especially before pregnancy, and during pregnancy and lactation, the following suggestions may be helpful.

For further information contact the La Leche League at

Dr Verity Livingstone is an Associate Professor in the Department of Family Practice, University of British Columbia and the Medical Director of the Vancouver Breastfeeding Centre. She co-produced the award winning video The Art of Successful Breastfeeding.

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Breastfeeding is an important step in reducing risk of cancer, diabetes, obesity and infections in infants. Breast milk is also linked to the development of higher intelligence in babies.

tofino time december 2003

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