1A - Benefits of Breastfeeding

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies

Human milk is recognized by health professionals and scientists throughout the U.S. and the world as the absolute best food for human babies.  Breast milk offers most babies all of the nutrients and calories they need to grow and develop, as well as many antibodies to help fight off illnesses.  Human breast milk is the only food that is naturally designed to meet all of a baby’s nutritional and immunological needs.  Although all of the benefits of breastfeeding may not yet be discovered, sound scientific evidence shows that breastfeeding offers the following benefits:

  • Disease-fighting antibodies that promote immune functioning
  • Lower risk of common illnesses such as ear infections, gastrointestinal tract infections (diarrhea and vomiting), urinary tract infections, and eczema
  • Lower risk of long-term illnesses such as allergies, asthma, respiratory diseases, childhood leukemia, lymphoma and Hodgkin disease
  • Lower risk of other illnesses such as bacterial meningitis and bacteremia
  • Lower risk of death during infancy, including death caused by dehydration due to diarrhea and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Lower risk of childhood obesity, type-1 and 2 diabetes, and cavities
  • Additional health benefits specifically for preterm babies, including lower risk of necrotizing enterocolitis
  • Higher cognitive functioning and academic achievement
  • Breast milk has analgesic properties, which can relieve pain associated with illness, teething and medical procedures 
  • Better mother-infant bonding  

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mothers

Breastfeeding is also shown to have physical and psychosocial benefits for mothers:

  • Lower financial cost
  • Weight loss after birth
  • Lower risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis
  • Lower risk of postpartum depression
  • Better mother-infant bonding
  • Sense of confidence and empowerment in mothering abilities

Risks of Formula Feeding

Although most people are aware of the benefits of breastfeeding, many overlook the corresponding risks of formula feeding.  Infant formula is designed to offer the best nutrition if human breast milk is not available, however infant formula does not offer the same benefits as breast milk.  Infant formula may not offer all of the vitamins and minerals that are in breast milk because some may not yet be discovered.  The vitamins and minerals in infant formula are not as readily absorbed as those in breast milk.  The important disease-fighting antibodies that are in breast milk are not in infant formula. 

Compared with breastfeeding, formula feeding carries the following risks for babies:

  • Higher risk of common illnesses such as ear infections, gastrointestinal tract infections (diarrhea and vomiting), urinary tract infections and eczema
  • Higher risk of long-term illnesses such as allergies, asthma, respiratory diseases, childhood leukemia, lymphoma and Hodgkin disease
  • Higher risk of other illnesses such as bacterial meningitis and bacteremia
  • Higher risk of death during infancy, including death caused by dehydration due to diarrhea and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Higher risk of childhood obesity, type-1 and 2 diabetes and cavities
  • Higher risk of necrotizing enterocolitis, specifically for preterm babies
  • Lower cognitive functioning and academic achievement  

Compared with breastfeeding, formula feeding carries the following risks for mothers:

  • Greater financial cost, from the cost of formula itself and increased medical costs and days absent from work to care for sick family members
  • Slower/less weight loss after birth
  • Higher risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer
  • Higher risk of postpartum depression
  • Poorer mother-infant bonding

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Society

Breastfeeding is not only beneficial for mothers and babies, it also has the following benefits for society:

  • Breastfeeding lowers health care costs, making limited resources available for others.  It is estimated that at least $3.6 billion would be saved annually in health care costs to treat only three common illnesses - ear infections, vomiting/diarrhea, and gastrointestinal disease - if half of U.S. women would breastfeed to six months.
  • Breastfeeding benefits the natural environment.  Breast milk is a renewable natural resource that creates no pollution to produce and distribute.
  • Successful breastfeeding empowers new mothers, which is a foundation of healthy and strong families.