Breastfeeding is superior to formula feeding because it has specific and non-specific
factors that have long term consequences for early metabolism and disease later
in life. Human milk enhances the immature immunologic system of the neonate
and strengthens host defense mechanisms against infective and other foreign
agents. Mechanisms that explain active stimulation of the infant`s immune system
by breastfeeding are through bioactive factors in human milk such as hormones,
growth factors, colony stimulating factors and specific nutrients. Human milk
may show a reduced occurrence of disease because: 1) Mammalian evolution promotes
survival advantage. 2) Factors that promote gastrointestinal mucosal maturation.
3) Factors that decrease the incidence of infection and alter the gut microflora.
4) Functional immunomodulatory and anti-inflammatory factors. 5) Hormones, growth
factors and cytokines that may modulate the development of disease. 6) Reduced
exposure to foreign dietary antigen. Following the termination of breastfeeding
there is evidence of ongoing protection against illness due to influences on
the immune system mediated via human milk. Industry continues to attempt to
improve formula with the addition of compounds such as fatty acids, oligosaccharides,
nucleotides and lactoferrin. However, human milk has such far reaching effects
on the infant`s immune response that normal development depends heavily on its
provision. All mothers should be encouraged and supported to continue breastfeeding
for six months and beyond in order to promote the good health of their infants.