What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies?
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), “Breastfeeding is a natural and beneficial source of nutrition and provides the healthiest start for an infant. In addition to the nutritional benefits, breastfeeding promotes a unique and emotional connection between mother and baby.”
Colostrum is Liquid Gold
Colostrum (pronounced “coh-LOSS-trum”), also known as early breast milk, is the thick yellow milk that your body creates during pregnancy and just after birth. This milk is extremely rich in nutrients and antibodies, which protect your baby as soon as she starts nursing. Although your baby only gets a small amount of colostrum at each feeding, it matches the amount her tiny stomach can hold.
Breast Milk Changes as Baby grows
Within three to five days after birth, colostrum changes into mature breast milk, which has exactly the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein your baby needs in order to grow and thrive. It is thinner than colostrum, and provides all of the nutrients and antibodies your baby needs after the first few days.
Breast Milk Is Easy for Baby to Digest
For most babies — especially premature babies — breast milk is easier to digest than formula. The proteins in formula are made from cow’s milk, which is designed for baby cows, not baby humans. It takes time for human babies’ stomachs to adjust to digesting cow’s milk proteins. In very rare instances, babies are born unable to tolerate milk of any kind. These babies must have soy formula. Formula may also be needed if the mother has certain health conditions and cannot breastfeed.
Breast Milk Protects Baby from Disease
Breast milk contains special cells, hormones, and antibodies that protect babies from a wide variety of illnesses. The protective chemical makeup of human breast milk cannot be duplicated in formula. Diarrhea and other digestive troubles, as well as ear infections, are much more common among formula-fed babies. Breastfed babies have been proven to have lower risks of:
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC), a disease that affects babies’ gastrointestinal tracts
- Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV)
- Lower respiratory tract infections
- Otitis media
- Colds, ear and throat infections
- GI tract infections
- Celiac disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Some research shows that breastfeeding can also reduce the risk of:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Childhood leukemia
- Atopic dermatitis (a type of skin rash)
The rate of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) is reduced by a third in breastfed babies.
Because formula feeding often causes babies to gain unnecessary weight, there is a 15 percent to 30 percent reduction in adolescent and adult obesity among people who were breastfed as infants, compared to non-breastfed infants.
How Long to Breastfeed
The AAP recommends breastfeeding exclusively for about the first six months of a baby's life. From six to 12 months, breastfeeding should continue, while introducing complementary foods. After the first year, breastfeeding should continue for as long as mutually desired by mother and baby.
Breastfeeding is not a lifestyle choice. It is an investment in your baby’s health over the short and long term.