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Your question:

Is there a time when the benefits of breastfeeding end?

Expert’s answer:

The recommendation of the World Health Organisation and the HSE is exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months with the introduction of complementary foods from 6 months and continued breastfeeding for two years and beyond.

A mother’s breastmilk acts like ‘a unique medicine for her child’. At no time do the antibacterial and antiviral properties of breastmilk cease. For some illnesses, the health benefits of breastfeeding have a dose-response with a longer duration of breastfeeding having better health outcomes.

A recent systematic review on breastfeeding and health outcomes was published in The Lancet last year. The review emphasised just how important breastfeeding is for all women and children, irrespective of where they live and of whether they are rich or poor.

“Appropriate breastfeeding practices prevent child morbidity due to diarrhoea, respiratory infections, and otitis media. Where infectious diseases are common causes of death, breastfeeding provides major protection, but even in high-income populations it lowers mortality from causes such as necrotising enterocolitis and sudden infant death syndrome. Available evidence shows that breastfeeding enhances human capital by increasing intelligence. It also helps nursing women by preventing breast cancer. Additionally, our review suggests likely effects on overweight and diabetes in breastfed children, and on ovarian cancer and diabetes in mothers.” Viktora et al, Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms and lifelong effect (2016)

This systematic review was based on 113 studies and found that longer periods of breastfeeding were associated with a 26% reduction in the odds of overweight or obesity. The effect was consistent across income classifications.

For every 12-months of lifetime breastfeeding, a reduction of 4·3% in the incidence of invasive breast cancer was found.

There are so many reasons that breastfeeding is beneficial for all societies. The following link will take you to an open access study, detailing all the reasons to continue breastfeeding.

http://www.thelancet.com/pdfs/journals/lancet/PIIS0140-6736(15)01024-7.pdf

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