10 Ways Breastfeeding Benefits Your Baby — and You
Breastfeeding may be the number one best way to launch your baby into its new life. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that moms exclusively breastfeed for the first six months of a baby’s life, with continued breastfeeding to complement other foods as they are introduced. Overall, the Academy recommends that breastfeeding continue for one year or longer, if possible.
While many moms won’t be able to breastfeed exclusively, the Academy says that any amount of breastfeeding helps a baby in specific and concrete ways. Here are ten of the most important benefits a baby gets from breastfeeding.
1) Better Immune System - Illnesses ranging from stomach viruses to ear infections to meningitis occur less frequently in babies that have breast fed. And if they do happen, they are usually less severe. The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences reports that kids who are breastfed have a 20 percent lower risk of dying between the ages of 28 days and 1 year than kids who are not. Why? The first milk a mom’s body produces for her baby is called colostrum. That milk contains a compound called secretory immunoglobulin A (IgA). IgA safeguards a baby from harmful germs by forming a protecting layer on the mucous membranes of the infant’s intestines, nose and throat. Interestingly, because the body tailors breast milk specifically to each baby, a mom can transmit some immunity to the pathogens she is exposed to during pregnancy or while nursing.
2) Reduced Incidence of Cancer – Scientists believe that the antibodies in breast milk that help strengthen a child’s immune system also help it fight off cancer.
3) Lower Rates of Diabetes – Breastfed babies grow up to have less incidence of type 1 and type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, and inflammatory bowel disease. Non-breastfed babies are more likely to suffer from Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis as adults.
4) Allergy Protection – Remember IgA? It coats the baby’s intestinal tract, reducing inflammation and the likelihood that the baby will develop “leaky” intestinal walls. Without this protection, undigested proteins can get into the baby’s gut and cause allergic reactions.
5) Heightened Intelligence – Several studies show a direct correlation between prolonged breastfeeding and a child’s ability to learn. In one examination of 4,000 children, babies who were breastfed achieved much higher scores on a vocabulary test when they were five years old than those who were not breastfed. The scores were higher the longer breastfeeding continued. In another case, low birth-weight premature babies who received breast milk shortly after birth had higher mental development scores at 18 months than preterm infants who were not breastfed. The emotional bonding that occurs during nursing, coupled with the fatty acids in breast milk, may both be responsible.
6) Reduced Obesity – The American Journal of Epidemiology synthesized the results of 17 studies and found that breastfeeding reduces the risk that a child will be an obese teen or adult. This may be due to the fact that breastfed babies generally satisfy their hunger and stop eating normally. Also, breast milk contains less fat-stimulating insulin than formula does. Plus, babies fed formula have a tendency to gain weight faster in the first few weeks of life, which may put them on course for excessive weight gain later in life.
7) Less Risk of SIDS – Breastfeeding seems to reduce the risk that a child will experience sudden infant death syndrome. A 2009 German study found that exclusive breastfeeding at one month of age cut the SIDS risk in half.
8) Reduce Mom’s Stress and Depression – Mothers who nurse their babies report experiencing less postpartum depression and stress. This could be because nursing triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that promotes relation. Oxytocin also helps the uterus contract after birth. That means the uterus will bleed less after delivery, helping the mother recover faster.
9) Protect Against Ovarian and Breast Cancer – Women who breast feed suffer less from breast and ovarian cancer. What’s the link to nursing? It may be related to the structural changes in breast tissue that occur during breastfeeding. Also, lactation suppresses the amount of estrogen a woman’s body produces. Estrogen can be a factor in both breast and ovarian cancer.
10) Lose Weight – Many women report that nursing helps them lose the weight they gained while they were pregnant. A study looked at data for more than 25,000 women in Denmark, measuring how long women breastfed and also how intensely. The results? Women who breastfed the longest periods of time were more likely to lose their pregnancy weight six months after giving birth.
Breastfeeding gives babies a leg up as they enter the world, getting them off to a healthy start and helping them stay health as they grow into teens and adults. If you are pregnant, talk to your ob-gyn or pediatrician about how to make breastfeeding work for you and your child.