Why Breastfeeding is the Best for your Baby

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Breast milk is the best food for babies in the first year of life. 

It helps babies grow healthy and strong.

Breastfeeding helps protect a baby from many illnesses.

 Breastfed babies have fewer health problems than babies who don’t breastfeed.

Your breast milk changes as your baby grows so he gets exactly what he needs at the right time.

It’s best to feed your baby only breast milk for at least 6 months. 

Keep breastfeeding for 12 months, even when your baby starts solid foods.

Why is breastfeeding good for your baby?

Breast milk is the best food for babies in the first year of life. 

It helps them grow healthy and strong and protects them from infections and illness. For example:

Breast milk has hormones and the right amount of protein, sugar, fat and most vitamins to help your baby grow and develop.

Breast milk has antibodies that help protect your baby from many illnesses. 

Antibodies are cells in the body that fight off infection. 

Breastfed babies have fewer health problems than babies who aren’t breastfed.

 For example, breastfed babies don’t have as many ear, lung or urinary tract infections. 

And later in life they’re less likely to be overweight or have asthma, certain cancers and diabetes (having too much sugar in the blood).

Breast milk has fatty acids, like DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), that may help your baby’s brain and eyes develop.

Breastfeeding can reduce your baby’s risk for sudden infant death syndrome (also called SIDS). 

SIDS is the unexplained death of a baby younger than 1 year old.

Breast milk is easy to digest. 

A breastfed baby may have less gas and belly pain than a baby who is fed formula. 

Formula is a man-made product that you buy and feed your baby.

Breast milk changes as your baby grows so he gets exactly what he needs at the right time. 

For example, for the first few days after giving birth, your breasts make a thick, sticky, early form of breast milk called colostrum. 

Colostrum has nutrients and antibodies that your baby needs in the first few days of life. It changes to breast milk in 3 to 4 days.

Breast milk is always ready when your baby wants to eat. The more you breastfeed, the more milk you make.

In the United States, most new moms (about 80 percent) start breastfeeding.

 More than half (about 58 percent) of moms breastfeed for 6 months. 

About one-third of new moms (36 percent) breastfeed for 12 months.

Is breastfeeding good for babies with special needs?

Yes. Some babies are born prematurely or with birth defects or other medical conditions. 

Breastfeeding babies with special needs like these can help them grow and protect them from illness. 

Premature birth is birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy. 

Birth defects are health conditions that are present at birth. 

They change the shape or function of one or more parts of the body. 

Birth defects can cause problems in overall health, how the body develops or how the body works.

If your baby has health conditions like these, you may need extra help to make breastfeeding work. 

Your health care provider, your baby’s provider or a lactation consultant can help you and your baby learn to breastfeed.

 A lactation consultant is a person with special training in helping women breastfeed.

Is any amount of breastfeeding good?

Yes. It’s best to feed your baby only breast milk for at least 6 months.

This means no water, formula, other liquids or solid food—just breast milk.

But any amount of breastfeeding is good for your baby’s health and development.

Even breastfeeding for a short time is good for your baby.

Is breastfeeding good for mom?

Yes. Breastfeeding helps you because:

It increases the amount of a hormone (chemical) in your body called oxytocin. 

This helps your uterus (womb) after birth go back to the size it was before you got pregnant. 

It also helps stop bleeding after giving birth.

It burns extra calories. This helps you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight (your weight before pregnancy).

It may help lower your risk for diabetes, breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

It can help you bond with your baby. 

Bonding is when you get close to your baby and get to know each other.

Breastfeeding also delays the return of your period. 

But this can make it hard to know when you can get pregnant again. 

Use birth control to help prevent pregnancy until you’re ready to get pregnant again.

Talk to your provider about birth control that’s safe to use when you’re breastfeeding.

Is breastfeeding safe for all moms and babies?

No. Breastfeeding may not be safe for your baby if:

  • You have certain medical conditions
  • Take certain medicines
  • Use harmful drugs

You can pass some infections, medicines and drugs to your baby through breast milk. 

Some can be harmful to your baby. 

Learn how to keep breast milk safe and healthy.

 Talk to your provider if you think you have a condition that may make breastfeeding unsafe for your baby.

Breastfeeding and Brain Development

We can’t promise that breastfeeding will make your child a Nobel Prize winner, but research shows a very positive relationship between breastfeeding and brain development.

Children who were breastfed have I.Q. scores averaging seven to ten points higher than formula-fed infants.

 It’s important to remember that these numbers represent averages for hundreds of children, not the effect of breastfeeding on a specific individual.

 So, if you want to raise the intelligence level of an entire generation of children, breastfeeding would be a simple and cost-effective way to do it.

Studies have shown that children who are breastfed get higher grades in school, even after other influences on school performance are taken into account.

The positive effects of breastfeeding and brain development are greater the longer the baby is breastfed.

Although intellectual differences between breastfed and formula-fed children used to be attributed to the increased holding and interaction associated with breastfeeding and to the fact that mothers who breastfed were better educated and/or more child-centered, new evidence shows that there are nutrients the tie between breastfeeding and brain development is from nutrients in breastmilk that enhance brain growth.

Fats for Brain Development

One key ingredient in breastmilk is a brain-boosting fat called DHA (docasahexaenoic acid), an omega-3 fatty acid. 

DHA is a vital nutrient for growth, development and maintenance of brain tissue. 

Autopsy analysis of brain tissue from breastfed and formula-fed infants shows that the brains of breastfed babies have a higher concentration of DHA, and DHA levels are highest in babies who are breastfed the longest. 

Infant formulas made in the United States do not contain DHA.

Add More DHA to your Diet

To insure that babies get enough nutrients for their growing brains, it’s important that breastfeeding mothers get enough DHA in their diets. 

Rich sources of DHA are fish (particularly salmon and tuna).

 Increasing DHA consumption will benefit mom’s health too. 

Remember the nutritional rule of F’s: four ounces of fish a day keeps central nervous system degeneration at bay.

Brain Development and Cholesterol

Cholesterol is another fat needed for optimal brain development. 

Breastmilk contains a lot of cholesterol, while infant formulas currently contain none. 

“Low in cholesterol” may be good news for adult diets, but not for babies–cholesterol provides basic components for manufacturing nerve tissue in the growing brain.

DHA, cholesterol and other breastmilk fats provide the right substances for manufacturing myelin, the fatty sheath that surrounds nerve fibers.

 Myelin acts as insulation, making it possible for nerves to carry information from one part of the brain or body to another.

 So important are these brain-building fats, that if mother’s diet doesn’t provide enough of them for her milk, the breasts can make them on the spot.

Smarter Sugars

Lactose is the main sugar in breastmilk. 

The body breaks it down into two simpler sugars – glucose and galactose. 

Galactose is a valuable nutrient for brain tissue development.

 Anthropologists have demonstrated that the more intelligent species of mammals have greater amounts of lactose in their milk, and human milk contains one of the highest concentrations of lactose of any mammal milk. 

Cow milk and some cow milk formulas contain lactose, but not as much as human milk.

 Soy-based and other lactose-free formulas contain no lactose at all, only table sugar and corn syrup.

Smarter Connections for Brain Growth

During the first two years of your baby’s life, the brain grows rapidly, and baby’s everyday experiences shapes brain growth. 

Brains cells, called neurons, multiply and connect with each other until the brain circuitry resembles miles of tangled electrical wires. 

Every time a baby interacts with her environment, her brain makes a new connection. 

Because breastmilk is digested faster, breastfed babies feed more often and therefore probably interact with their caregivers more often. 

Breastfeeding itself, with its skin-to-skin contact, the variations in milk flow, and the closeness between mother and baby, is usually a more interesting, more interactive experience than bottle-feeding. 

This is nature’s way of insuring that babies get the stimulation they need for optimal benefits from breastfeeding and brain development.

Breastfeeding Benefits

• Brain. Higher IQ in breastfed children. Cholesterol and other types of fat in human milk support the growth of nerve tissue.

Eyes. Visual acuity is higher in babies fed human milk.

Ears. Breastfed babies get fewer ear infections.

Mouth. Less need for orthodontics in children breastfed more than a year. 

Improved muscle development of face from suckling at the breast. 

Subtle changes in the taste of human milk prepare babies to accept a variety of solid foods.

Throat. Children who are breastfed are less likely to require tonsillectomies.

Respiratory system. Evidence shows that breastfed babies have fewer and less severe upper respiratory infections, less wheezing, less pneumonia and less influenza.

Heart and circulatory system. Evidence suggests that breastfed children may have lower cholesterol as adults. Heart rates are lower in breastfed infants.

Digestive system. Less diarrhea, fewer gastrointestinal infections in babies who are breastfeeding. Six months or more of exclusive breastfeeding reduces risk of food allergies. Also, less risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in adulthood.

• Immune system. Breastfed babies respond better to vaccinations. Human milk helps to mature baby’s own immune system. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of childhood cancer.

Endocrine system. Reduced risk of getting diabetes.

Kidneys. With less salt and less protein, human milk is easier on a baby’s kidneys.

Appendix. Children with acute appendicitis are less likely to have been breastfed.

Urinary tract. Fewer infections in breastfed infants.

• Joints and muscles. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is less common in children who were breastfed.

Skin. Less allergic eczema in breastfed infants.

Growth. Breastfed babies are leaner at one year of age and less likely to be obese later in life.

Bowels. Less constipation. Stools of breastfed babies have a less-offensive odor.

Benefits of Breastfeeding to a baby

The health benefits of breastfeeding extend far past weaning. 

As researchers look at the various factors associated with different diseases, they often find that children and adults who were breastfed as infants are less likely to experience problems with chronic diseases.


 In some cases, even minimal amounts of breastfeeding may provide some protection against disease in later life, but usually the longer a baby is breastfed the greater the protective effect. 

Here are some of the ways that breastfeeding builds a lifetime of good health:

Breastfeeding prevents obesity

Even in infancy, breastfed babies as a group are leaner than their formula-fed peers.

 Studies have shown that children who are breastfed are less likely to be obese during adolescence, and that longer periods of breastfeeding greatly reduce the risk of being overweight in adulthood. 

Overweight children are more likely to become overweight adults. 

Since breastfed babies themselves control how much they eat (aided by the changes in fat levels during a feeding session), children who are breastfed learn to trust their bodies’ signals about how much they need to eat and when. 

This builds healthy eating habits right from the start.

 Although parents might urge a formula-fed baby to finish up the last ounce or two of milk in the bottle, you can’t do this to a breastfed baby. When she’s done, she’s done!

Better teeth

Breastfed babies have better jaw alignment and are less likely to need orthodontic work as they get older.

 A study of 10,000 children found that those who were breastfed for a year or more were 40 percent less likely to require orthodontic treatment. 

The sucking action used to breastfeed involves complex motions of the facial muscles and tongue.

This improves the development of facial muscles and the shape of the palate.


 The better jaw alignment associated with breastfeeding can even mean less snoring and a lowered risk for a condition known as obstructive sleep apnea–the blockage of air flow during sleep, which can disturb sleep patterns and lead to other health problems.

Lowered risk of heart disease.

All the evidence isn’t in yet, but some researchers believe that breastfeeding during infancy may lower the risk of heart attacks and strokes in later life. 

This is due in part to the higher levels of cholesterol in human milk.

 Some heart researchers theorize that because of the cholesterol content of human milk, a breastfed baby’s liver learns to metabolize cholesterol better than formula-fed infants. 

This leads to lower blood cholesterol levels as adults and thus a lower risk of heart disease.

 Though limited in number, some studies have shown that adults who were formula-fed as infants tend to have higher blood cholesterol and are more likely to have arterosclerotic plaques than those who were breastfed.

Lowered risk of juvenile diabetes

Babies who are breastfed are less likely to develop type 1 diabetes mellitus in childhood. Researchers have attributed this lowered risk of diabetes to the delayed introduction of cow milk in breastfed babies.

 In addition, researchers have shown a lower insulin release in breastfed infants compared to infants fed formula.

 This preventive effect is particularly important if you have a family history of diabetes.

Lowered risk of multiple sclerosis.

Multiple sclerosis, a degenerative muscle disease that strikes adults, may be caused in part by myelin breakdown. 

However, multiple sclerosis is less common in countries where breastfeeding rates are high. 

Human milk’s contribution to the myelin formation may help to prevent multiple sclerosis in later life.

Lowered risk of asthma and allergy

Studies have shown that breastfeeding lowers the chances of a child developing allergies and asthma symptoms. 

Breastmilk’s immune components protect babies from allergens in the first months of life. 

Breastfeeding also delays the introduction of potentially allergenic foods, such as cow milk and soy protein, into the diet until the baby is older and the immune system is more mature.

Other diseases

Research suggests that breastfeeding may also play a role in preventing digestive diseases, such as ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease, as well as childhood cancers. 

This makes sense: nourish an infant’s body with the unique food designed for it by nature and that body will function in a healthier way, perhaps for the child’s entire life.

Breastmilk’s influence on health is probably more far-reaching than researchers have even dared to imagine, but studies of factors that affect the development of disease in adults seldom ask their research subjects how they were fed as infants (and many adults would have trouble giving accurate answers to these kinds of questions).

 New studies of what breastmilk contains suggest that this living biological fluid carries substances that are critical to the optimal development of many systems in the body. 

This early development may very well affect the progress of many diseases throughout life.

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