Programs that encourage women in developing countries to feed their babies only breast milk for the first six months can lead to reduced rates of diarrhea among infants, a new study shows. Rates of diarrhea were reduced by about one-third in babies who were three months old when mothers fed only breast milk.
Breastfeeding early in life is a complete diet. And if there are harmful microbes in the environment -- bacteria, protozoa, viruses -- the mom will make antibodies and pass them on to the baby through the breast milk. By feeding babies only breast milk, mothers in developing countries can protect their children from contaminated drinking water.
The study followed 895 women who had recently given birth. The women and babies in the study were from the state of Haryana in India, where literacy rates are low, The community hand pumps are the main water supply in Haryana and that families normally defecate in the fields. Researchers sent 483 of the women to counselors who provided education about the benefits of exclusively feeding children breast milk during the first six months of life. The other 412 women were not counseled.
Among women who received counseling, 79 percent fed their babies only breast milk. This is compared to 48 percent in the group that received no counseling. Babies whose mothers had been counseled about breastfeeding were less likely to develop diarrhea, according to the report. At three months, they were 36 percent less likely to have diarrhea than children whose mothers had not been advised to breastfeed exclusively. At six months, they were 15 percent less likely to have diarrhea.
Despite the differences in diet, babies in both groups were of comparable size and weight at the end of the study.
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