Benefits of breastfeeding

Alternate Names

Nursing your baby; Lactation; Deciding to breastfeed

Definition

Experts say that breastfeeding your baby is good for you and your baby. If you breastfeed for any length of time, no matter how short it is, you and your baby will benefit from breastfeeding.

Learn about breastfeeding your baby and decide if breastfeeding is for you. Know that breastfeeding takes time and practice. Get help from your family, nurses, lactation consultants, or support groups to succeed at breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Is Good for Your Baby

Breast milk is the natural food source for infants younger than 1 year. Breast milk:

  • Has the right amounts of carbohydrate, protein, and fat
  • Provides the digestive proteins, minerals, vitamins, and hormones infants need
  • Has antibodies that help keep your baby from getting sick

Your Breastfed Baby Is Less Likely to Get Sick

Your baby will have fewer:

  • Allergies
  • Ear infections
  • Gas, diarrhea, and constipation
  • Skin diseases (such as eczema)
  • Stomach or intestinal infections
  • Wheezing problems
  • Respiratory diseases, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis

Your breastfed baby may have a lower risk for developing:

  • Diabetes
  • Obesity or weight problems
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Tooth decay

Breastfeeding Is Good for You Too

You will:

  • Form a unique bond between yourself and your baby
  • Find it easier to lose weight
  • Delay starting your menstrual periods
  • Lower your risk for diseases such as, breast cancer and certain ovarian cancers, osteoporosis, heart disease, and obesity

Breastfeeding Can Save You Time and Money

You can:

  • Save about $1,000 per year when you don’t buy formula
  • Avoid bottle cleaning
  • Avoid having to prepare formula (breast milk is always available at the right temperature)

Get Help if Your Baby or You Have Special Needs

Know that most babies, even preemies, can breastfeed. Talk to a lactation consultant for help with breastfeeding.

Some babies may have trouble breastfeeding because of:

  • Birth defects of the mouth (cleft lip or cleft palate)
  • Problems with sucking
  • Digestive problems (galactosemia)
  • Premature birth
  • Small size
  • Weak physical condition

You may have trouble breastfeeding if you have:

  • Breast cancer or other cancer
  • Breast infection or breast abscess
  • Poor milk supply (uncommon)
  • Previous surgery or radiation treatment

Breastfeeding is not recommended for mothers who have:

  • Active herpes sores on the breast
  • Active, untreated tuberculosis
  • Human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection or AIDS
  • Nephritis
  • Serious illnesses (such as heart disease or cancer)
  • Severe malnutrition

References

Payne PA, Tully MR. Breastfeeding promotion. In: Ratcliffe SD, BaxleyEG, Cline MK, Sakornbut EL, eds. Family Medicine Obstetrics. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 4.


Review Date: 9/27/2012
Reviewed By: Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M. Health Solutions, Ebix, Inc.
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