Breastfeeding your baby is one of the greatest gifts you can give. Breastfeeding benefits your child, yourself, your pocketbook and the environment. Healthcare professionals recommended breastfeeding your child for a minimum of six months can give them the best possible start in life.
I have complied an inclusive list incorporating all the breastfeeding benefits I could find in scholarly articles, books and websites. The goal of this benefits of breastfeeding list is to provide a one stop shop for all pro-breastfeeding propaganda. It is a great place to come if you are feeling discouraged while settling into a breastfeeding routine.
NOTE: Realistically this 70 item breastfeeding benefits list is way too long to read in one sitting. I have also broken up the breastfeeding benefits list in to discrete topic areas that are more digestible.
Top 15 Reasons to Breastfeed
Environmental Benefits of Breastfeeding
Financial Benefits of Breastfeeding
Medical Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding Benefits To Baby
Breastfeeding Benefits to Mother
Extended Breastfeeding Benefits
Here we go one giant list of breastfeeding benefits!
1. Recommended by UNICEF and the World Health Organization
The World Health Organization in collaboration with UNICEF state in their “Global Strategy for Infant and Young Child Feeding” that “Breastfeeding is an unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. There after, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production”.
2. Breast milk has the perfect composition of carbohydrates, fat and protein
Formula is just that, a formula to try and match the best combinations to get the composition as close to breast milk as they can. Breast milk changes from feeding to feeding to accommodate the child’s needs. There is no way formula can compete with that. The American Dietetic Association states “human milk provides optimal nutrition to the infant with its dynamic composition and the appropriate balance of nutrients provided in easily digestible and bioavailable forms.”
3. Babies digest breast milk more easily than formula
Cow’s milk has twice as much protein compared to human milk so formula-fed babies get more protein than they need and excrete the rest. Breastfed babies absorb almost all the protein in human milk.
4. Helps shrink uterus after birth
The baby’s suckling will help the uterus to shrink more quickly to it’s pre-pregnancy size.
5. Breast milk helps the developing baby’s immune system and gives them immunities to disease
Formula doesn’t give any of these benefits. Breast milk gives babies antibodies from the mother to help fight disease and so breastfed babies get sick less. Williams in Breast-Feeding Best Bet for Babies says “About 80% of the cells in breast milk are macrophages, cells that kill bacteria, fungi, and viruses. Breastfed babies are protected in varying degrees from a number of illnesses including, pneumonia, botulism, bronchitis, staphylococcal infections, influenza, ear infections, and German measles. Furthermore, mothers produce antibodies to what ever disease is present in their environment, making their milk custom-designed to fight diseases their babies are exposed to as well.” This also reduces the number of doctor’s visits and co-pays.
6. Less sick days for parents
Parents of breastfed children have to take less sick leave as statistically their children are healthier compared to formula-fed children.
7. Breastfed babies have higher I.Q’s
Breast milk increases brain and cognitive development. Formula, no matter what the marketing gurus try and tell you can’t compete on the same level.
8. Facilitates bonding for the mother and baby and meets the baby’s emotional needs
Babies need to be held and breastfeeding is one of the best ways to bring your baby close to you. Oxytocin is released in the mother’s body during breastfeeding which bonds the mother and child and stimulates maternal behavior while also encourages the release of milk and uterine contractions.
9. Breast milk is perfect infant nutrition
The American Association of Pediatrics issued a statement on breastfeeding saying that “”Human milk is uniquely superior for infant feeding and is species-specific; all substitute feeding options differ markedly from it. The breastfed infant is the reference or normative model against which all alternative feeding methods must be measured with regard to growth, health, development, and all other short and long-term benefits.”
10. Breastfed babies have fewer allergies than formula fed babies
Formula fed babies have an increased risk of developing allergies especially if their family has a history of allergies. Babies are frequently allergic to cow’s milk formula and some even to soy formula. Breastfeeding also protects against other allergies such as atopic eczema, food and respiratory allergies.
11. Helps nursing moms lose weight after giving birth
Breastfeeding burns about 500 extra calories a day and by maintaining a balances diet they can lose weight quicker than those formula feeding their children.
12. Improves social development
Breastfed babies excel at both psychomoto and social development compared to formula-fed babies. This trend is clear even at 12 months of age.
13. Improves hand-eye coordination
The reasons remain unclear but it has been proved that breastfed babies are able to see and manipulate objects compared with bottle-fed babies.
14. Aids in correct intestinal development
The digestive tract of a newborn is still permeable and is susceptible to viruses, bacteria and other toxins until it matures. The gastrointestinal system matures more quickly in breastfed babies. Dr Jack Newman (http://www.promom.org/bf_info/sci_am.htm ) states “…certain hormones in milk (such as cortisol) and smaller proteins (including epidermal growth factor, nerve growth factor, insulin-like growth factor and somatomedin C) act to close up the leaky mucosal lining of the newborn, making it relatively impermeable to unwanted pathogens and other potentially harmful agents. Indeed, animal studies have demonstrated that postnatal development of the intestine occurs faster in animals fed their mother’s milk. And animals that also receive colostrum, containing the highest concentrations of epidermal growth factor, mature even more rapidly.”
15. Assists correct dental and jaw development
Breastfeeding is good for both a child’s tooth and jaw development. Babies have to use 60 times the energy to breastfeed as opposed to bottle feeding. The jaw is thus getting more exercise which in turn helps the formation of jaw and gives the baby straight, healthy teeth. The longer the baby nurses the less chance they have of having an undesirable positioning of teeth. This also leads to less money needing to be spent at the orthodontist! Breast milk also contains bacteria which helps to fight tooth decay which will keep your dentist bills down too.
16. Facilitates better speech development
Babies that are bottle-fed frequently develop tongue thrust difficulties because they are trying to slow down the flow of milk. Milk flows much faster from an artificial nipple and this can lead the speech problems later on in life. Babies miss out on the physiological sucking at the breast due to early weaning may have an interruption in correct oral motor development causing changes to both the strength and posture of the speech organs. This may interfere with chewing, swallowing, breathing and speaking.
17. Reduces risk of breast cancer in breastfeeding mothers
Many studies show that women who breastfeed their babies lowers their risk of getting breast cancer which means that by not breastfeeding your baby increases your risk.
18. Mothers increase their risk of ovarian cancer if they choose not to breastfeed
Your risk of getting ovarian cancer can be reduced by about one third if you breastfeed your child for 12 – 24 months.
19. Breast milk helps rid the baby of meconium
Meconium is a tar-like substance that babies excrete when they are first born. The early milk, called colostrum, helps the baby to pass this through their body.
20. Increases risk of breast cancer in formula fed baby girls later in life
Women have higher rates of breast cancer if they were formula fed as infants. Even if they were only breastfed for a short time, women had a 25% lower risk for breast cancer compared with formula fed babies.
21. Protects against Crohn’s Disease
Crohn’s disease is a chronic intestinal disorder and a form of inflammatory bowel disease which is difficult to treat. Many studies show that breastfeeding may help the child in avoiding developing the disease as they grow up.
22. Breastfed babies have lower risks of developing infant asthma
Lack of breastfeeding has been linked to asthma in a number of studies. One study stated if babies were not exclusively breastfed for at least four months they were more likely to have asthma by the time they were six years old.
23. Formula fed babies have an increased risk of ear infections
Infants are 3 – 4 times more prevalent in formula-fed babies compared to those that are breastfed.
24. Formula fed babies may be at increased risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
There are a number of studies showing possible links between lack of breastfeeding and SIDS. One study found that babies breastfed exclusively for less than eight weeks had a 3 – 5 times greater risk of SIDS compared with those exclusively breastfed for four months.
25. Protects baby against diarrhea infections
Many studies indicate that formula-fed babies are more likely to contract diarrhea infections. This is true worldwide despite misconceptions that only people in areas with contaminated water are affected. Fatalities from diarrhea infections are more likely in developing countries but all formula-fed babies have a greater risk than those that are breastfed.
26. Protects against bacterial meningitis
Meningitis is an infection causing inflammation of the membrane covering both the brain and spinal cord and can be caused by a bacteria known as Hemophilus influenzae type b or Hib. Breastfeeding protects against infections caused by this bacteria and therefore also against meningitis.
27. Protects baby from respiratory infections
Studies show that breastfed babies are less than half as likely to be hospitalized with bronchiolitis or pneumonia and have a fifth of the number of lower respiratory tract infection compared to formula-fed babies. Breastfeeding protects infants from life threatening respiratory infections including those caused by rotaviruses. There is a relatively new vaccine out against rotavirus and this is unnecessary if you choose to breastfeed your baby. Recent studies show that in developed countries, the risk of severe respiratory tract illness requiring hospitalization has more than tripled in formula-fed babies compared to those that were exclusively breastfed for four months.
28. Improves the effectiveness of vaccinations
Breastfed babies illustrated better serum and secretory results for both oral and parenteral vaccines compared to formula-fed infants.
29. Formula fed babies have a higher risk of developing certain childhood cancers
Through a study done at the University of Minnesota, it was found that infants who were breastfed for six months had a 30% less chance of getting leukemia compared to formula fed babies. Infants breast fed for at least one month had a 21% chance of getting leukemia.
30. Formula-fed babies run a higher risk of developing diabetes
Many studies link the lack of breastfeeding to Type 1 diabetes and there are new studies linking it to Type 2 diabetes as well.
31. Breastfeeding reduces insulin requirements in diabetic mothers
After giving birth, mother who choose to breastfeed had a significantly bigger reduction in insulin dosage compared with those that formula-fed their babies.
32. Protects infant against some vision defects
During the first two years of a child’s life (or until they are weaned) breast milk normally is the main source of vitamin A. A study in Bangladesh concluded that breastfeeding was one factor protecting preschoolers from night blindness.
33. Better for premature infants
When babies are born prematurely their mothers produce milk specifically suited to their needs that has a composition similar to that of colostrum. This is different to the milk produced by a mother of a full-term pregnancy. Breastfed premature babies are more responsive than those being bottle-fed as well as being more alert during social interactions.
34. Cow’s milk irritates the intestines
Doctors agree that cow’s milk should not be given to infants until they are one years old as it can irritate the lining of the intestines and cause an iron deficiency and possibly anemia.
35. Formula-fed babies have a higher risk of obesity as they grow up
Many studies have shown that breastfed babies tended to have a significantly lower risk of obesity compared with formula-fed babies.
36. Decreases likelihood of suffering from osteoporosis
Studies show that both mother and children from the breastfeeding partnership will be less likely to get osteoporosis. A study determined that the odds of getting the disease were four times higher for those mothers that didn’t breastfeed. A study conducted by the MRC Childhood Nutrition Research Center of London concluded that 8 year old children that had not been breastfed had less developed bone mineralization compared with previously breastfed kids.
37. May help alleviate progress of maternal endometriosis
Women suffering from endometriosis, a disease where the endometrial tissue forms in places other than the uterus causing painful complications and even sterility, can be halted by breastfeeding as it delays the onset of the menstrual cycle. Some sufferers even claim it can cure it permanently.
38. Postpartum hemorrhaging in mother prevented by suckling baby
Oxytocin is released in the mother as she breastfeeds her baby. This causes contractions in the uterus helping it to regain its pre-pregnancy size while expelling the placenta. The contractions also cut off the blood vessels in the mother that previously fed the baby and depresses excessive blood loss. Mothers who elect not to breastfeed are given synthetic oxytocin to prevent hemorrhaging.
39. Failure to breastfeed increases mother’s risk of endometrial cancer
According a study by the World Health Organization, the longer a woman breastfeeds the less likely she is to get endometrial cancer.
40. Reduces likelihood of developing rheumatoid arthritis
A Swedish study showed that rheumatoid arthritis is less likely in adults if they were breastfed as babies. Another study by University of North Carolina/Duke University revealed breastfed children were only 40% as likely to develop juvenile rheumatoid arthritis.
41. Decreases chances of contracting Hodgkin’s disease
Hodgkins diseased is cancer of the lymph system that can develop in children but is less likely to do so if the children were breastfed as babies.
42. Breast milk is pre-prepared and comes with great packaging!
Formula needs to be measured and mixed with clean water while breast milk is ready to go any time it’s needed. What could be better for your child than connecting with his mother at her breast as opposed to being attached to a artificial plastic nipple. Also, it saves you time as there is no mess and no clean up as opposed to formula bottles which need to be washed and sterilized.
43. Shorter pre and post-surgical fasting
Children having elective surgery may breastfeed until three hours before they arrive at the hospital.
44. Reduces the likelihood of developing necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)
NEC normally occurs in premature or sick newborns where the lining of the intestinal wall dies and pulls away. An Australian study stated that approximately 83% of NEC cases may be due to the absence of breastfeeding.
45. Helps with natural child spacing
It is definitely possible to get pregnant while breastfeeding but most women don’t ovulate for at least the first six months after they give birth. This is dependent on exclusive breastfeeding (with no supplements or solid food) and for those whose menstrual cycles has not yet resumed. Night nursing further delays the return of a woman’s period but to ensure you don’t get pregnant again always use a back up method of birth control. Generally speaking breastfeeding helps with optimal child spacing.
46. Easier than formula
Although learning to breastfeed may have its initial challenges your nursing relationship often becomes virtually effortless. You simply lift your shirt and get the baby latched. If you use formula you have to buy formula, bottles and other supplies. Then you must mix, heat, refrigerate and clean up the formula. If you sleep near the baby you simply roll over in the middle of the night, allow the baby to latch and go back to sleep. With formula you have to get up, prepare bottle and then clean up before going back to bed.
47. It’s free!
Breast milk is right there and provided free of charge by nature, prepared specifically for your babies needs at not cost at all. Isn’t that marvelous!
48. Formula is expensive
You can expect to pay between $1,500 – 2,000 on formula in the first year of your child’s life (dependent upon which brand you select). We must also factor in the added statistical medical cost which will bring the cost to about $3,300 per year. Hypo-allergenic formulas are even more expensive which will bump the cost up even further.
49. Formula costs both the government and taxpayers millions of dollars
In 2000 the US government supporting the WIC supplemental food program spent almost $300 million on formula. There is also the additional cost of formula-fed infants who statistically get sick more frequently. The American Association of Pediatrics suggests that US health car costs could be reduced by $3.6 billion per year if we achieved higher rates of breastfeeding.
50. Breast milk is a natural tranquilizer for babies
Breast milk has a wonderful calming effect on babies and helps to soothe them and even to go to sleep. This can help even more during the toddler years which is even more of a reason to encourage toddler nursing.
51. Helps calm moms down too!
Breastfeeding your child can help you to relax and even fall asleep yourself. Pumping has the same effect and if you have to do it at work then this can be a great way to reduce your stress level. The hormone, Oxytocin, helps moms to relax and is released as you nurse your baby.
52. Breast milk taste way better than formula
Formula is bland while breast milk is sweet, light and all natural.
53. Breast milk is always ready at the right temperature
Many babies have burnt their mouths with formula being heater incorrectly. Even if you do it properly it is stressful to wait for the bottle to warm up instead of just latching your baby on and being ready to go.
54. Good for the environment
Everyone is being encouraged to go green these days. Breastfeeding requires less waste from packaged products such as wrappers, canisters and disposable bottlers. In an article titled “Mother Nature Loves Breast milk, D Michels states, “If every child in America were bottle-fed, almost 86,000 tons of tin would be needed to produce 550 million cans for one year’s worth of formula. If every mother in Great Britain breastfed, 3000 tons of paper (used for formula labels) would be saved in a year. But formula is not the only problem. Bottles and nipples require plastic, glass, rubber, and silicon; production of these materials can be resource-intensive and often leads to end-products that are not-recyclable. All these products use natural resources, cause pollution in their manufacture and distribution and create trash in their packaging, promotion, and disposal.”
55. Lowers chance of developing high cholesterol
56. Offers natural pain relief for babies
Breast milk contains endorphins which relieve pain and the baby gets lots of comfort from suckling at its mother’s breast. This helps to soothe scrapes, bruises and falls and helps after the administration of vaccines to sooth the baby and enhances the vaccine’s effectiveness.
57. Less equipment to buy, maintain and store
All the extras for formula feeding like bottles, measuring devices and sterilizing equipment (I’m sure there are more) are costly and take up space and have to be thoroughly cleaned.
58. Breast milk has never been recalled
There have been many health scares with formula especially recently when Melamine was found in formula killing babies in China http://www.usatoday.com/news/health/2008-09-11-tainted-formula_N.htm
59. Reduced likelihood of suffering from eczema
Studies show that eczema is less likely in breastfed babies. Eczema causes and itchy rash on the skin.
60. Less spit up
Newborns that are breastfed suffer short bouts of spit up (gastroesophageal reflux) compared with bottle fed babies. This is often caused by the fact that bottle-fed babies get a faster flow of milk from the artificial nipple and they swallow more milk than their systems can accommodate and then end up spitting it up.
61. Formula can use genetically modified ingredients
The US government does not require foods to state if they have been genetically modified or not. Many of the top brands of formula have been tested and found to contain genetically engineered ingredients. Breast milk on the other hand is not genetically modified at all.
62. Breast milk has no artificial growth hormones
Modern cows are routinely injected with growth hormones to artificially increase milk production. These growth hormones are likely to find their way into formula too.
63. Multiple sclerosis linked to lack of breastfeeding
There are many factors that contribute to the development of this disease later in life but one of those factors is a lack of breastfeeding.
64. Reduced likelihood of baby developing urinary tract infections
According to one study urinary tract infections are five times more likely in bottle-fed babies compared with those that are breastfed.
65. Protects mother from anemia
Anemia is an iron deficiency that caused exhaustion and temporary memory loss as well as a weakened immune system. Mothers that exclusively breastfeed their babies normally delay the start of their menstrual cycle for the first 12 months or longer which reduces the chances of their iron stores being depleted through monthly bleeding.
66. Breastfeeding moms spend less on menstrual supplies
Many breastfeeding moms do not resume menstruation until their baby is a year or older. This saves money that would normally be spent on menstrual supplies like tampons, pads and pain medication. This reduces the amount of waste benefiting the environment as well.
67. Builds self-confident mothers
Breastfeeding increases mother’s self-confidence when they look at their infants and know that that are solely nourished by the milk that they have produced. Being able to support and sustain your baby in this way is very gratifying.
68. May lower blood pressure
Studies in the United Kingdom have shown that lower blood pressure is associated with breastfed babies compared to those fed formula. That may continue to have an effect later in adult life as well.
69. Fewer stinky diapers
Breastfed babies have bowel movements that smell mild and inoffensive. The smell is a lot stronger in formula fed babies. Who wouldn’t opt for sweeter smelling diapers?
70. It’s what breasts were designed for!
This is probably the most obvious reason to choose to breastfeed your child.