Benefits of Breastfeeding
by Carol Townson, RN, CCE, IBCLC
Breastfeeding is THE most important thing that a mother can do for her baby. Breastfeeding is the baby’s first immunization, providing important and protective antibodies. Colostrum, the pre-milk substance that the baby receives for the first 1-5 days prior to the milk "coming in", is especially rich in antibodies, which protect against bacteria and viruses. Infants receive antibodies and protection against ANY bacteria or virus to which the mother has come into contact with and developed a resistance to. Breastfed babies have fewer allergies and a lower incidence of juvenile diabetes. Immunizations are more effective in breastfed babies and urinary tract infections are less common. Most people are familiar with the fact that respiratory illness, ear infections, diarrhea and stomach upsets are less frequent in breastfed infants, but here are some lesser known facts:
Benefits to the Baby
- Breastfed babies are less likely to need orthodontia, as breastfeeding optimizes the correct suck-swallow patterns and supports normal oral-facial development.
- Breastfed babies are less likely to need eyeglasses because certain nutrients that are crucial to developing visual function are found in abundance only in human milk.
- Bedwetting and rheumatoid arthritis is less common in breastfed babies and they are less likely to get some cancers.
- Breastfed babies score higher on developmental tests, and tests show higher IQ’s for breastfed children, an average of 8-9 points higher at 11-15 years of age.
- Because of all the anti-infective benefits, breastfed babies are hospitalized less often in the first 4 months (15 times less often), obviously leading to financial advantages.
- Multiple Sclerosis is less common in people who were breastfed.
Benefits to the Mother
- Women with gestational diabetes who breastfeed decrease their risk of later Type II diabetes. Breastfeeding also decreases later risk of breast and ovarian cancer and the risk of hemorrhage after birth in subsequent pregnancies.
- Lactation reduces women’s risk of osteoporosis, and postpartum obesity is less common in lactating mothers.
- Lactating mothers have better responses to stress, as they produce lower levels of stress response hormones and are less aggressive and anxious.
Breastfeeding is more cost-effective than purchasing formula, saving approximately $1300-$3000 per year. Also, parents of breastfed babies have increased workplace productivity, because breastfed babies are sick less often and less work is missed. There will be less money spent on doctor visits and medications, and last but not least breastfeeding is more friendly to the environment. Breastfeeding is a sustainable, renewable resource that is free and creates no waste. Artificial feeding products are non-renewable, create waste, require costly packaging and shipping, and need expensive fuel to prepare.
The convenience of breastfeeding is unequaled. Breastfed babies are easily portable, needing only mom for a feeding–no pouring, mixing, warming, washing or sterilizing is needed. Once breastfeeding is well established, breastfeeding women have more free time. Because there is a sleep-inducing chemical in breastmilk, and a sleep inducing hormone is produced in mom’s body, both mom and baby go to sleep more easily, making nighttime feedings easier.
How long you choose to breastfeed is a personal decision, but the American Academy of Pediatrics now recommends that breastfeeding continue through at least the first 12 months, and into the second year if desired. There is always benefit from breastmilk, whatever the age of the child. If weaning occurs prior to 12 months of age, cow’s milk should not be given, only a prepared infant formula should be used. The American Academy of Pediatrics also advises that in the first 6 months of life, water, juice or other foods are generally unnecessary for breastfed infants.
Editorial provided by Carol Townson, RN, CCE, IBCLC of the Health Education and Lactation Consultants in Katy, Texas.