Breastfeeding Benefits

How does breastfeeding help me?

No food is more perfect for babies than breast milk. Breast milk contains all the nutrients that a newborn needs — to date some 100 “ingredients” have been identified in breast milk that cannot be duplicated in formula. In fact, the benefits of breastfeeding are so well established that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that women breastfeed their infants for at least one year, and exclusively for the first six months. It also recommends that a woman should continue breastfeeding as long as she and the baby want to do so.

Today, most women do not breastfeed their babies for the length of time recommended by the AAP. It’s important to remember, though, that not all women have the desire or the ability to breastfeed. And some women are unable to breastfeed for an entire year. Even a little breast milk can help your baby, but if that isn’t possible, today’s baby formulas are the next best thing.

Here are some of the benefits of breastfeeding:

Breast milk strengthens a baby’s immune system and protects against many kinds of infection. Breast milk is full of antibodies that protect babies from bacteria and viruses. If you breastfeed, that means your baby is less likely to develop ear infections, diarrhea, stomach viruses, asthma or other respiratory illnesses — which in turn means fewer visits to the pediatrician. Breast milk also seems to boost a baby’s immune system, so that babies have a better response to immunizations against diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, Haemophilusinfluenzae (a bacteria that can cause diseases like meningitis and pneumonia) and infections with respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), a potentially life-threatening respiratory illness. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, infant mortality after birth is reduced by 21 percent among breast-fed babies, and breast feeding has also been linked to a reduced risk of sudden infant death during the first year of life.

Breast milk provides all the nutrition a baby needs. Breast milk is the perfect food for babies because it provides the exact amounts of protein, fat, sugar, and water that they need. As your baby grows, the composition of the milk changes to meet his body’s demands at different stages in his development. Breast milk is also easier for babies to digest than formula.

Breast milk may help protect against serious diseases such as leukemia and diabetes. Because breast milk is full of disease-fighting cells known as antibodies, which help protect babies from germs, it is protective against a number of illnesses. Researchers at the University of Minnesota reported that primarily breastfeeding during infancy for any duration was associated with a 21 percent reduction in the risk of two forms of leukemia, and babies who were breastfed for more than six months had the lowest risk. A larger study found that breastfeeding also helps protect against still another form of leukemia. Also, researchers in Lithuania have reported that breastfeeding for longer than two months helps protect against type 1 diabetes. In recent years, breastfeeding has also been linked to a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes.

Breastfeeding may protect children from obesity. Because breast milk provides the fat, protein, and other components that babies need, breastfed babies often don’t gain as much weight as formula-fed babies. Studies show that breastfed babies are less likely to be obese later in life.

Breastfeeding is convenient. If you breastfeed, you don’t need to mix formula, scramble to make and warm a bottle in the middle of the night, or wonder if you’ve left home with enough food for your infant. As long as your baby is with you, when she’s hungry you can feed her immediately.

Breastfeeding is “cheap.” Depending on which brand you buy, formula can cost hundreds of dollars each month. Breast milk is free.

Breastfeeding may reduce your risk of developing breast and ovarian cancers. Researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill examined data from the Carolina Breast Cancer Study and compared the rates of breast cancer in 751 mothers who had breastfed at least once and 743 mothers who had not. The study found that the risk of breast cancer among women who had breastfed was reduced by 20 percent in women age 20 to 49 years and 30 percent in women ages 50 to 74 years, in comparison to those who had not breastfed. The researchers speculated that breastfeeding may cause structural changes in the breast that offer the protective factors. In addition, several studies suggest that breastfeeding also helps protect against ovarian, cervical, and endometrial cancers.

Other studies have also found that in mothers, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of type 2 diabetes and post-partum depression.


Breastfeeding: Frequenttly Asked Questions.

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The National Women’s Health Information Center. Benefits of Breastfeeding.

Department of Health and Human Services. Office on Women’s Health. Breastfeeding: HHS Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding.

Shu, X.O. et al. Breast-feeding and risk of childhood acute leukemia. Journal of the National Cancer Institute. Vol. 91, No. 20, pp. 1765-1772.

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Dermer, Alicia, MD, IBCLC. Breastfeeding’s Benefits to Mothers. New Beginnings. Vol. 18 No. 4, pp. 124-127. July-August 2001.

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Indiana State Department of Health. Facts You Should Know About Breastfeeding.

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