Breastfeeding is a practice that has received mixed attention over the decades and across cultures. While some cultures or individuals believe it to be taboo, others see the practice as the best way to give a baby a healthy start in this world. Science backs up the latter claim with evidence showing that breast milk truly is the best first food for a newborn and is a healthy practice for both mom and baby.
Breastmilk contains all the right nutrition that a newborn needs for proper growth and development, including water, protein, essential fatty acids, carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals.1 It also contains digestive enzymes to help those tiny bellies process this first food, antibodies and antimicrobial agents to protect against infection and boost a baby’s immune system and hormones and growth factors for proper development.1,2 The World Health Organization recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, then be introduced to solid foods while supplementing breastfeeding until age two or beyond.
The number of health benefits associated with breastfeeding is almost too many to count! Buckle up for this long happy list:
- Breastfeeding strengthens a baby’s immune system, and little ones who breastfeed are less likely to suffer from asthma, respiratory infections, ear infections, diarrhea, allergies, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).1,2,3
- Babies who are breastfed are much less likely to be overweight or obese in childhood and adolescence, and their risk of developing type 2 diabetes, hypertension, and high cholesterol in adulthood goes down dramatically as well.3,4
- Moms who breastfeed lose that extra pregnancy weight more quickly than moms who don’t breastfeed their babies, given that breastfeeding burns about 300-500 calories per day.5
- Moms who breastfeed their children have a lower risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer while in their premenopausal period, as well as a decreased risk of osteoporosis or hip fracture during menopause.4,5 The positive impacts of breastfeeding are long-term!
- The act of breastfeeding increases oxytocin and other feel-good hormones that help with maternal-infant bonding, creating a strong relationship between mom and baby from the earliest days. The release of these hormones when breastfeeding can also decrease a mom’s risk of postpartum depression.6
Surprised to see talk of money on this list? Don’t be! Formula can be quite expensive, and it adds up over time. In fact, the Surgeon General estimates that families who breastfeed can save up to $1,200-$1,500 or more on formula in the first year alone.7 On the flip side, women have an impressive superpower – producing breastmilk for free!
An Extra Note
It’s important to note that while breastfeeding is recognized as the best practice for most moms and babies, breastfeeding is not always easy, recommended, or even possible for some. This article is not meant to minimize the struggle that many moms face when trying to breastfeed their child, nor is it meant to create judgment against those who choose to formula-feed instead. Remember that resources exist to support moms who want to breastfeed, including Certified Lactation Counselors (CLC), an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), postpartum doulas, and breastfeeding support groups. If you’re struggling to breastfeed, please reach out for help from your provider, other local experts, or supportive friends and family.
For more information about breastfeeding your baby or any of your pre- or postnatal care needs, contact SEARHC at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.