Before you decide (or if you just need reassurance that breast milk is the right choice for you), let’s go through all the benefits to both you and baby.
Breast milk provides optimal nutrition for babies. It has the right amount of nutrients, is easily digested, and is readily available.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months, and continuing even after solid foods are introduced, until at least age 1 year or until both mom and baby agree to call it quits.
The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends breastfeeding until 2 years old or longer because the benefits continue that long. These agencies recommend starting as early as one hour after birth for the biggest benefits.
These recommendations don’t come lightly, and you’ll see why.
Here are 11 science-based benefits of breastfeeding that are amazing for you and for your little one.
Breastfeeding benefits for baby
1. Breast milk provides ideal nutrition for babies
Most healthcare professionals recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months or much longer.
Breast milk contains everything baby needs for the first 6 months of life, in all the right proportions. Its composition even changes according to the baby’s changing needs, especially during the first month of life.
During the first days after birth, your breasts produce a thick and yellowish fluid called colostrum. It’s high in protein, low in sugar, and loaded with beneficial compounds. It’s truly a wonder food and not replaceable by formula.
Colostrum is the ideal first milk and helps the newborn’s immature digestive tract develop. After the first few days, the breasts start producing larger amounts of milk as the baby’s stomach grows.
About the only thing that may be lacking from your magical milk supply is vitamin D.
Unless you have a very high intake (and most of us don’t), your breast milk won’t provide enough. Vitamin D drops are usually recommended.
2. Breast milk contains important antibodiesBreast milk is loaded with antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria, which is critical in those tender, early months.
This particularly applies to colostrum, the first milk. Colostrum provides high amounts of immunoglobulin A (IgA), as well as several other antibodies.
When you’re exposed to viruses or bacteria, you start producing antibodies that then go into the milk. It’s immunity, baby!
IgA protects the baby from getting sick by forming a protective layer in the baby’s nose, throat, and digestive system.
Formula doesn’t provide antibody protection for babies. Numerous studies show that babies who are not breastfed are more vulnerable to health issues like pneumonia, diarrhea, and infection.
3. Breastfeeding may reduce disease riskExclusive breastfeeding, meaning that the infant receives only breast milk, is particularly beneficial.
It may reduce your baby’s risk for many illnesses and diseases, including:
Middle ear infections. Breastfeeding, particularly exclusively and as long as possible, may protect against middle ear, throat, and sinus infections well beyond infancy.
Respiratory tract infections. Breastfeeding can protect against multiple respiratory and gastrointestinal acute illnesses.
Colds and infections. Babies exclusively breastfed for 6 months may have a lower risk of getting serious colds and ear or throat infections.
Gut infections. Breastfeeding is linked with a reduction in gut infections.
Intestinal tissue damage. Feeding preterm babies breast milk is linked with a reduction in the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis.
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breastfeeding is linked to a reduced risk of SIDS, especially when breastfeeding exclusively.
Allergic diseases. Breastfeeding is linked to a reduced risk of asthma, atopic dermatitis, and eczema.
Bowel diseases. Babies who are breastfed may be less likely to develop Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Diabetes. Breastfeeding is linked to a reduced risk of developing type 1 diabetes and non-insulin-dependent (type 2) diabetes.
Childhood leukemia. Breastfeeding is linked to a reduction in the risk for childhood leukemia.
4. Breast milk promotes baby’s healthy weightBreastfeeding promotes healthy weight gain and helps prevent childhood obesity.
One study showed that breastfeeding for longer than 4 months had a significant reduction in the chances of a baby developing overweight and obesity.
This may be due to the development of different gut bacteria. Breastfed babies have higher amounts of beneficial gut bacteria, which may affect fat storage.
Babies fed breast milk also have more leptin in their systems than formula-fed babies. Leptin is a key hormone for regulating appetite and fat storage.
Breastfed babies also self-regulate their milk intake. They’re better at eating only until they’ve satisfied their hunger, which helps them develop healthy eating patterns.