The major ingredients of human milk are lactose (sugar), whey and casein (easily digestible protein), as well as digestible fatty acids. The combination of these ingredients provides babies with the optimal balanced nutrition. But, there are many other health benefits for baby.
Research has found that breastfed babies or babies who receive expressed breast milk have lower risks of:
- Childhood leukemia
- Childhood obesity
- Ear infections
- Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Lower respiratory infections
- Necrotizing enterocolitis (a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in pre-term infants)
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Type 2 diabetes
In addition, research has shown a connection between breastfeeding and greater cognitive development in children through school age.
There are also many health benefits of breastfeeding for Mom, including:
- Less blood loss following childbirth and improved healing. The hormone oxytocin, which is released during breastfeeding, reduces the time that it takes for the uterus to return to its regular size and has been found to reduce postpartum bleeding.
- Improved postpartum weight loss.
- Reduced risk of developing Type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
- Reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer later in life.
- Decreased likelihood of experiencing postpartum depression.
- Emotional and physical close interaction with infant due to skin-to-skin contact with baby. The same hormones that simulate milk production and milk release may also promote feelings that promote a strong sense of love and attachment between mom and baby.
As well as economical and societal benefits, including:
- Families with infants who are breastfed save hundreds of dollars per year that might otherwise be spent on infant formula.
- Medical care costs are lower for fully breastfed infants than never-breastfed infants. Breastfed infants usually need fewer sick care visits, prescriptions and hospitalizations.
- Parents of children who breastfeed miss less work to care for sick infants than parents who feed their infants formula.
- Formula cans and bottle supplies create more trash and plastic waste. Human milk is a renewable resource that comes packaged and warmed.
Additional Public Health Recommendations
For women in the U.S., the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently recommends:
- Infants should be fed breast milk exclusively for the first 6 months of life. Exclusive breastfeeding means that the infant does not receive any additional foods (except vitamin D) or fluids unless medically recommended.
- After the first 6 months and until the infant is 1 year old, the AAP recommends that the mother continue breastfeeding while gradually introducing solid foods into the infant's diet.
- After one year, breastfeeding can be continued if mutually desired by the mother and her infant.
The World Health Organization currently holds a global public health recommendation that:
- Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life to achieve optimal growth, development, and health.
- After the first 6 months, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to 2 years of age or beyond.
Although medical organizations advocate for breastfeeding as the optimal form of infant feeding, we recognize that there are many factors that inhibit women from breastfeeding. While formula feeding is different from breastfeeding, formulas do provide appropriate nutrition for babies and you should feel empowered by whatever decision you make for you and your baby.