Breastfeeding provides numerous benefits for both children and mothers, yet there are still barriers to breastfeeding beyond six months of age. Mothers in some demographic groups are still less likely to breastfeed at all. Another barrier reported by some sources includes the fact that some medical doctors still do not fully offer information or support to mothers and prospective mothers.
The list of benefits of breastfeeding, including breastfeeding toddlers and young children, continues to grow, with well-documented studies and other reputable sources touting the many benefits. These 25 benefits of breastfeeding are examples of some of those documented and proved by data and science.
These 25 benefits of breastfeeding are examples of some of those documented and proved by data and science:-
1. Breast milk contains an ideal amount of nutrients
Breastfeeding provides an optimal level of nutrients for infants, toddlers, and young children. The World Health Organization (WHO) explains that breastfeeding is the “Normal” method of providing infants with nutrients needed to help them experience healthy growth and development. WHO reports, “Optimal breastfeeding is so critical that it could save the lives of over 800,000 children under the age of 5 years every year.”
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding up to at least six months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with nutritionally adequate solid foods up to two years of age and beyond.
2. Initiating breastfeeding protects newborns from acquiring infections
Several sources indicate that when a new mother breast feeds her infant within the first hour of giving birth, breastfeeding helps protect the baby from acquiring infections. The antibodies in breast milk help protect against bacteria and viruses.
3. Nutritional benefits and protections continue as long as breastfeeding continues
Multiple studies indicate that as long as breastfeeding continues, the nutritional benefits and protections against disease continue. Kelly Mom notes the information in a fact sheet on breastfeeding past infancy, some of which includes:
- Dewey 2001 – Concluded that breast milk continues to provide substantial amounts of key nutrients…including most vitamins as well as fat and protein “Well beyond the first year of life”
- Persson 1998 – Research demonstrated that breast milk was an important source of Vitamin A in “The second and third year of life” in a rural Bangladesh community
- AAP 2012, AAP 2005 – The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says there is “No evidence” of psychological or developmental harm when “breastfeeding into the third year of life or longer”
4. Breastfeeding reduces risk of childhood asthma and allergies
Children who are breastfed for at least the first six months of life have reduced the risk of respiratory illnesses.
Breastfed infants and children also have lower rates of allergies and asthma compared to children who are not breastfed.
5. Breastfed children have lower risk for gastrointestinal illnesses and diseases
Breastfed children potentially have a substantially lower risk of developing gastrointestinal illnesses including gastroenteritis, diarrhea, and other serious gastrointestinal illnesses.
In fact, the WHO indicates that when considering protections provided by breastfeeding, “Chief among these is protection against gastrointestinal infections…”
6. Breastfeeding lowers risk and incidence of otitis media
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is one of the several sources providing data indicating that breastfeeding reduces the risk of otitis media. Otitis media is the infection of the middle ear and can be caused by bacteria or viral infection.
In a study published by the NIH, researchers compared breastfed, breast/formula fed and exclusively formula fed healthy children and children with acute otitis media (AOM).
After comparing the children across several categories, researchers concluded that the “Incidence of AOM was sequentially lowest…” in breastfed children. Researchers stated that their conclusions supported other studies that demonstrated the protective effects of breastfeeding in lowering the risk of developing AOM.
7. Breast milk potentially lowers risk of dermatological issues
Breastfeed children have a lower risk of suffering from certain skin rashes and disorders. For example, breastfed children have a lower risk of getting atopic dermatitis.
The American Dietetic Association (ADA) says that the protections against atopic disease may potentially last for years after weaning.
8. Breastfeeding may improve cognitive development
Breastfed babies and young children may experience improved cognitive development. Several studies and other research points to improved cognitive development in breastfed children.
Kelly Mom lists more than 20 references and studies demonstrating potentially improved cognitive development among breastfed children. Several sources indicate that the benefits last well into childhood and perhaps into adulthood.
9. Numerous sources indicate benefits of breastfeeding beyond age one
Multiple sources demonstrate the outstanding benefits of breastfeeding a child past the age of one, including in a May 2012 press release from the Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
The AAFP says that a child weaned from breastfeeding prior to the age of two has a greater risk of illness, compared to children who are still breastfeeding at age two.
10. Contact from breastfeeding helps create emotional bond between mother and child
The skin-to-skin contact between mother and child during breastfeeding helps create a healthy bond and attachment.
The release of hormones from mom during nursing helps increase the mother’s feelings of physical and emotional closeness and fulfillment while the breastfeeding infant or child realizes a sense of protection. Breastfeeding helps promote an ongoing emotional bond between mother and child.
11. Trends promote breastfeeding as normal
Although millions of women breastfed their children throughout history, some prospective mothers may still view breastfeeding as abnormal or feel that only certain mothers should consider breastfeeding.
Scientific American reveals information from Alison Steube, assistant professor in the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, who says “The normal physiology is breastfeeding after pregnancy,” and that there are “Myriad consequences” when women do not breastfeed.
12. Breastfeeding provides children with optimal energy
The WHO reveals that breastfeeding supplies “Half or more” of a child’s energy levels for children between the ages of six and twelve months. Breast milk provides up to one-third of energy needs for toddlers between the ages of twelve and 24 months of age.
Additionally, breast milk provides a “Critical source” of energy during childhood illnesses.
13. Breastfeeding reduces likelihood of obesity
Breastfeeding reduces the likelihood of childhood obesity. This is true for even later in childhood.
The ADA lists childhood obesity as one of the issues where evidence “Continues to accumulate” demonstrating an association between breastfeeding and reduction in childhood obesity.
14. Breastfed children fare better on intelligence tests
Children who are breastfed continue to fare better on intelligence tests throughout childhood.
Extensive research shows that children who were breastfed for the longest time demonstrate the most significant gains on intelligence tests and school grades, compared to children who were never breastfed or only breastfed for a short period.
15. Actual lactation failure is uncommon
Although some mothers may worry their infant or young child is not getting enough milk, actual lactation failure is rare, says the American Dietetic Association in discussing lactation management. The issue is most often due to “Maternal perception.”
The ADA explains that breastfeeding should be initiated as soon as possible after birth and that such early content likely increases breastfeeding duration by as much as 50 percent. Early intervention when a mother incorrectly assumes the child is not getting enough nutrition served to potentially lower risk of early weaning.
16. Breastfeeding lowers risk of diabetes
Breastfeeding lowers the risk of a child developing type 1 diabetes.
The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) also points to WHO research indicating that breastfed children also have a lowered risk for suffering from type 2 diabetes.
17. Lower risk of mortality in breastfed children
While some sources still debate the issue, several other sources indicate a lower risk of infant mortality and sudden infant death syndrome in breastfed children. WHO lists this as a “Key fact,” specifically stating, “Over 800 000 children’s lives could be saved every year among children under 5 years if all children 0–23 months were optimally breastfed.”
Several studies demonstrate the relationship between breastfeeding and lower incidence of infant and young child mortality.
18. Special needs children benefit from human milk
A mother may have concerns about the ability to breastfeed her child with special needs. However, children born with special needs who are breastfed benefit significantly from human milk. For example, when considering premature infants, there are a “lower incidence of infection and sepsis/meningitis in human milk-fed, very low birthweight infants,” compared to premature infants who are not breastfed, says ADA.
Mothers of children with special needs should know that human milk has been successfully used to feed children suffering from serious conditions such as cleft palate, Down syndrome, cystic fibrosis and other special needs conditions.
19. Breastfeeding mothers recover from childbirth quicker and easier
Research points to the fact that mothers who breastfeed for at least six months after childbirth experience a quicker return to normal weight and are less likely to retain midsection fat than mothers who do not breastfeed.
In “How Breastfeeding Benefits Mother’ Health,” Scientific American points to research conducted by Eleanor Schwarz, assistant professor of medicine, obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences at the University of Pittsburgh and Candace McClure, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Pittsburgh, Department of Epidemiology. Their research discovered that women who did not breastfeed had an average of 7.5 centimeters more fat at the waistline, compared to breastfeeding mothers. Additionally, their research discovered that women who did not breastfeed tended to have more retained visceral fat, which “Sits around organs in the midsection and can put people more at risk for heart and other types of diseases.”
20. Lower risk of breast cancer in breastfeeding moms
The La Leche League points to a study from the medical journal Lancet, indicating that the longer a woman breast feeds, the greater her protection against developing breast cancer. This is not the first study indicating a correlation between breastfeeding and lower rates of breast cancer.
La Leche League explains that “Increasing the duration of breastfeeding of each child for only six months,” could potentially prevent an estimated 25,000 cases of breast cancer a year. They also reveal that breastfeeding for an additional twelve months could possibly prevent 50,000 cases of breast cancer on an annual basis “In Western populations where breast cancer is most prevalent.”
21. Breastfeeding offers several other health benefits for mothers
Several sources report evidence that demonstrates significant health protections for mothers who breastfeed. In addition to lower risk of breast cancer, breastfeeding mothers also benefit for lower risk of uterine cancer, endometrial and ovarian cancers.
Mothers who breastfeed also have a lower cardiovascular disease, lower rates of rheumatoid arthritis and several other medical conditions, compared to mothers who do not breastfeed.
22. Economic factors associated with breastfeeding
The American Dietetic Association reveals that the Economic Research Service of USDA stated a minimum estimated savings of $3.1 billion if rates of breastfeeding reached those recommended by the U.S. Surgeon General. Even with the large estimated amount of savings, the ADA suggests that the $3.1 billion savings are underestimated.
While some of the savings were reported from Medicaid and WIC programs, there are other savings as well. For instance, economic benefits extend to mothers and employers. Because of the health benefits resulting in fewer illnesses in breastfed children, mothers who breastfeed take fewer days off work due to the illness of their children. There are also reports of higher productivity in breastfeeding mothers, likely due in part to not having to worry about a sick child since breastfed children suffer fewer serious illnesses compared to children who are not breastfed. Additionally, breastfeeding also results in economic savings for employers who benefit from the increased productivity of breastfeeding mothers and the fact that the mothers take less time off work.
Another way that breastfeeding results in substantial economic benefits are the fact that because breastfed children suffer fewer serious illnesses, there are substantial savings for parents in the way of medical bills and prescription costs.
23. State laws protect breastfeeding mothers
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that 49 states, as well as District of Columbia and U.S. Virgin Islands, have laws that permit mothers to feed a breastfeeding child in any public or private location or they have to look for the options for the storage of the breastmilk. A breastfeeding mother no longer has to search for a public restroom to hide in to feed her child.
Several states and jurisdictions have additional laws protecting breastfeeding mothers. For example, the NCSL explains that 28 states, DC and Puerto Rico enacted laws related to breastfeeding in the workplace and that 29 states, as well as DC and the Virgin Islands, exempts breastfeeding from laws related to public indecency.
There are several other laws in various states and jurisdictions that protect breastfeeding mothers.
24. Medical community increasing support and awareness of breastfeeding
The AAFP explains that family physicians have a “Unique role” in the promotion of breastfeeding and are well positioned to provide support for breastfeeding mothers and the entire family.
AAFP released a Breastfeeding Policy Statement recognizing the multiple benefits of breastfeeding, recommended that all babies be breastfed and stated that breastfeeding should continue “As long as mutually desired.”
25. New breastfeeding guidelines for HIV-positive mothers
WHO reveals that new guidelines are in place for babies born to mothers with HIV.
Previous guidelines did not recommend breastfeeding for infants born to HIV-infected mothers; however, new guidelines indicate that giving antiretroviral medications to HIV positive moms do permit breastfeeding until at least six months old and up to at least 12 months old, with a lowered risk of the baby contracting the HIV infection.