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The Benefits Of Breast-Feeding

Spanish actress Penelope Cruz, right, arrives with director Pedro Almodovar for the U.K. premiere of "Broken Embraces" in London, Thursday, July 30, 2009. The film, which launches this year's open air season at Somerset House, is Almodovar's first film since his 2006 hit "Volver" and stars Academy Award-winner Cruz.
AP Photo/Joel Ryan
New information shows breast-feeding provides more than just sustenance for newborns.

The Early Show Medical Correspondent Dr. Emily Senay says there is a growing body of evidence that breast-fed children get a wide range of benefits that keep them on the right path later on in life.

"A new study of breast-feeding and cholesterol levels shows that breast milking early in life may pay off in adulthood with long-term benefits for heart health," said Dr. Senay.

Research in England showed breast-fed infants had a higher cholesterol as babies but by adulthood their cholesterol was lower than adults who were formula-fed as babies.

One theory is that early exposure to breast milk as a baby may help to program fat metabolism later in life and produce the resulting lower cholesterol levels as an adult.

Breast milk contains vital nutrients for a newborn like fatty acids that are essential for proper growth. The nutrients are called DHA and AHA. They are important for brain and vision development. "Studies show that infants who get these fatty acids in their diet score higher on baby IQ scales and have increased mental development," said Dr. Senay.

The fatty acids seems to be important for premature infants who miss absorbing them from their mother during the last trimester of pregnancy, which is when a lot of brain growth occurs. Breast milk, according to experts, also provides protection from infection and lower risk of some chronic diseases.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that most babies be breast-fed exclusively for six months and mothers should try to continue the act until the babies are a year old.

However, it is know that some mothers can or will not breast-feed.

The government has cleared the way for companies to begin enhancing formula with DHA and AHA. But controversy remains over how significant the advantage of the new additives will be. There is also controversy over whether the enhanced development has a lasting difference or if babies can be fed formula to catch up as they grow.