Breastfeeding: A foundation for education success

Parents everywhere are looking for ways to help their children excel in school. While numerous toys and programs are marketed as enhancing a child's ability to learn, the best beginning for a lifetime of learning and good health is breastfeeding.

The theme for World Breastfeeding Week 1999 is "Breastfeeding: Education for Life," as designated by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action. The aims are to raise awareness about the significance of breastfeeding for child development and to integrate knowledge and skills that support breastfeeding into educational settings.

The benefits of breastfeeding are becoming increasingly well known. "Ongoing research continues to underscore the unique and vital role of breastfeeding and human milk in a baby's growth and development," notes Marsha Walker, RN, IBCLC, President of the International Lactation Consultant Association. "Not only is breastfeeding important for health, nutrition and the development of the baby's sense of trust, it may be critical for brain development and learning readiness." Several recent studies have examined the relationship between special components of human milk, such as fatty acids and neural system growth and connection in the brain.

For example, ear infections are among the most common illnesses in infants and young children. While an occasional bout may not cause problems, repeated or continuous ear infections over the course of many months have been shown to interfere with a child's ability to learn language and speak correctly. "Breastfeeding significantly reduces the risk for ear infections, both delaying their onset and decreasing their severity and recurrence," Walker said. This in turn can prevent problems which might require special classes or therapy.

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