When a baby is born premature or with low birth weight, it can be a struggle for the parents to ensure their health. An underweight infant is weaker, and hence more prone to infection, disease, and stunted growth. Parenting is hard enough without having to deal with unexpected problems. There is no time for crappy problems!
To make sure that your child is growing up healthy, you need to work closely with a pediatrician. It is crucial to make the right decisions for your underweight baby.
You also need to understand their unique nutritional needs, which will be different from babies born with a healthier weight. Here are eight reasons why breast milk is healthier for an underweight baby.
Table of Contents
- Breast Milk Is More Nutritious
- Lower Chances of Infection
- Promotes Healthy Growth
- Promotes Gut Health
- Lower Mortality Rate
- Reduces Premature Health Problems
- Improves Mother-Child Bond
- Great for Mom’s Health
- Final Thoughts
Breast Milk Is More Nutritious
When your baby is underweight, it can feel like breast milk is not enough for them. It might be tempting to give your baby formula or any other liquid supplement, but you shouldn’t.
Unless your pediatrician advises you to add supplemental milk to your infant’s diet, you can exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first six months. This is because breast milk is the ideal food for preterm newborns.
Even though about 87 percent of breast milk is just water, research has shown that mother’s milk is all your baby needs. The complex composition of breast milk makes it highly nutritious for your infant.
With seven percent carbohydrates in the form of lactose and oligosaccharides and four percent lipids that include essential fatty acids required for growth, breast milk gives your baby the energy they need.
Only one percent of breast milk is protein, which might seem low, but it is the right amount for human infants. Protein is the building block of “life” and is a crucial macronutrient for growth, repair, and development. Breast milk also has every essential vitamin and mineral your baby needs.
Lower Chances of Infection
Preterm babies are both small and underweight. Their bodies are not fully developed, which makes them prone to different infections and diseases. If your baby is born at term but is underweight, it might be small and weak.
Low birth weight makes babies more vulnerable. This is another reason why breast milk is the right choice for them.
Breast milk is naturally equipped with immune factors that help breastfed babies fight infection and illness. It contains antibodies that not only protect babies while they are breastfeeding but also ward off lifelong health issues, poor metabolism, and certain common diseases.
Research has shown that babies who are exclusively breastfed for their first six months are healthier later in life. They are less likely to develop skin problems, allergies, asthma, obesity, diabetes, and even leukemia.
Promotes Healthy Growth
Did you know that research has shown that human breastmilk slightly lowers the growth rate of babies? It lowers their growth hormones and blood insulin levels. Even if this sounds like a bad thing, it’s actually not. This reduces their risk of obesity and diabetes later in life!
Breastmilk is designed for a slightly slower growth pace. Researchers believe that this is why human milk has the lowest level of protein among all mammals. A steady growth level is crucial for the baby to grow up healthy and strong.
However, some babies have trouble drinking from the breast and are too weak to suckle effectively. Some mothers also produce less milk, which can hamper the baby’s growth. In such cases, your pediatrician might ask you to supplement your baby with formula alongside breastfeeding.
Promotes Gut Health
Preterm and underweight babies have a weaker immunity system. If your baby is premature, their digestive system will be less developed. This can make digestion difficult for them, which is why it is crucial to give them breast milk.
Human breast milk is naturally designed for babies. It’s mild on your baby’s tummy. Your baby’s body is more likely to absorb breast milk properly, getting their full nutrition.
Did you know that babies who were not exclusively breastfed in their first six months are more likely to become lactose intolerant later in life? Baby formula is often packed with more nutrients, and this can often be bad for the baby.
Some babies have difficulty digesting formula, which can leave them nutrient deficient. It can also give them gas, constipation, diarrhea, and many other digestion-related problems.
While formula tries to mimic that, it still can’t mimic the extra benefits that breast milk provides. There are enzymes in breast milk that not only help your baby digest but also help create good gut flora.
Lower Mortality Rate
How does breastfeeding affect an infant’s life expectancy? There is plenty of research that has linked the connection between breastfeeding and a lower mortality rate. Research has shown that breastfed babies are less prone to SID (sudden infant death syndrome).
One study conducted in Ethiopia showed that exclusive breastfeeding is the strongest predictor of infant mortality. The result showed that the babies who weren’t exclusively breastfed were eight times more likely to die.
Another study conducted in an urban area in the United States showed similar results. Babies who didn’t receive any breastfeeding were at high risk of neonatal or post-neonatal death.
Breastfeeding can affect life expectancy in many ways. The antibodies in breast milk help your baby become stronger, which helps them avoid disease.
The sooner breastfeeding is initiated after birth, the higher the chance of the baby’s survival. Research has shown that babies who were breastfed within the first 24 hours of life were more likely to survive.
Reduces Premature Health Problems
Premature babies face an array of health problems. Anemia is quite common in preterm infants. With a lack of healthy red blood cells, there is poor blood circulation.
If blood is not carrying enough oxygen and food to various parts of their bodies, it can hamper their growth and development further. Breast milk has iron, which is crucial for making red blood cells and tackling anemia. Even if the amount seems low, frequent feeding can help your anemic baby.
Many preterm babies suffer from breathing problems. This is because their lungs are not properly developed to carry out respiration without any issue.
As premature babies are more prone to lung and chest infections, breast milk can help reduce the risk. Breastfeeding can protect their lungs and ears from infections.
One issue that premature babies face is necrotizing enterocolitis. This common yet serious infection occurs when the underdeveloped intestine tissues get damaged or start to die. Breastfeeding can protect from NEC by providing antibodies that help babies fight off infection.
Improves Mother-Child Bond
Preterm and underweight babies have a more difficult time adapting to the outer world. Since their bodies are small and often under-developed, the task of survival is more difficult for them.
Since they suffer more, they tend to cry a lot. They need a lot of love and support to help them survive. Breastfeeding can help them a lot, as it gives them an opportunity to bond with their mothers. It helps them feel safe and secure, which can be the key to their survival.
The skin-to-skin contact helps reduce stress and pain in babies. It helps regulate their heart rate and breathing, making them sleep better. By breastfeeding, you encourage healthy growth in your infant.
Breastfeeding can support your child both physically and emotionally. The physical touch helps them have a stronger bond with their mom, giving them more hold on the world that surrounds them. Breastfed babies tend to cry less, as they get a frequent sense of security.
Great for Mom’s Health
Mothers who have premature babies suffer a lot from postnatal depression. It is not easy to watch your baby suffer without thinking you have failed them. Breastfeeding can help you from falling into depression.
When your baby feeds from your breasts, it helps release the hormone oxytocin in moms. This helps them feel warm and wholesome, reducing stress and anxiety. Breastfeeding also makes you feel like you are directly helping your child grow. This can make you feel more confident as a mother.
Breastfeeding can also reduce the chances of mothers developing cardiovascular diseases and diabetes. It helps lose pregnancy weight and protects against breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer.
By being physically and mentally healthy, mothers of premature and underweight babies can take better care of them.
We hope these reasons why breast milk is healthier for underweight newborns help you take better care of your baby.
Research supports the necessity of breastfeeding in preterm babies. Many studies have shown that breast milk can reduce mortality rates drastically.
Breastfeeding can help your premature or underweight baby in numerous ways. It can provide all the right nutrition and protect them from infections. Since preterm babies are more prone to disease, the antibodies in breastmilk can be the key to their survival.