What are the benefits of breastfeeding?
10/16/2023 by Chetna Mangat, M.D.
Breast milk is the complete source of nutrition for the optimum growth of a child. Besides its nutritional benefits, it also protects the infant and mother against various diseases and conditions. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life which means that the baby doesn't need any other food besides breast milk during this time. After that, breastfeeding should be continued, preferably for the first two years of life or more with other complementary foods. In general, breastfed babies have strong immune systems, get fewer illnesses and have improved dental and neurodevelopmental outcomes.
Benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfed children have a decreased risk of the following conditions:
- Ear infections, or otitis media.
- Respiratory tract infections.
- Eczema, or atopic dermatitis.
- Necrotizing enterocolitis.
- Celiac disease.
- Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis.
- Late-onset sepsis in preterm infants.
- Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
- Childhood overweight or obesity.
Maternal benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding helps a mother lose weight after pregnancy while creating a special emotional bond with her child. Breastfeeding mothers also have a decreased risk of the following conditions:
- Excessive menstrual blood loss.
- Breast, ovarian, endometrial and thyroid cancers.
- Type 2 diabetes.
- Rheumatoid arthritis.
Breastfeeding is also a great benefit to the environment and society.
- Breastfeeding children are sick less often and their parents miss less work.
- It's climate-friendly, as it does not require energy for manufacturing or create waste or air pollution.
- There is no risk of contamination and breast milk is always available, at the right temperature and ready to feed, even in the case of emergencies, such as natural disasters.
Contraindications to breastfeeding
There are only two true contraindications to breastfeeding:
- Infants with classic galactosemia, a rare genetic disorder that affects how the body breaks down sugar called galactose.
- Mothers in the U.S. who are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV).
Chetna Mangat, M.D., is a physician in Primary Care in Rochester and Kasson's Division of Community Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine. She is board-certified in pediatrics, a board-certified lactation consultant and is a member of AAP's Section on Breastfeeding.