It’s National Nutrition Month, and as a nutrition expert, I can’t let the month go by without talking about breastfeeding.
Breastmilk is pretty mind-blowing when you learn about all it can do for a baby and mother’s health, in both the short and long-term. The nutritional benefits of breastmilk are endless, and it would take years to describe them all. Today I’m going to highlight just ten of the ways a baby benefits from breastfeeding.
In the world of parenting, breastfeeding vs. formula feeding is a highly emotional topic, and can really polarize groups of parents. So I want to point out that this post is about breastfeeding. Not parenting. Whether or not people breastfeed depends on many factors – some under a mother’s control and some not.
I do not believe breastfeeding determines whether or not someone is a good mother. However, I do believe that more people – male and female – deserve to know the specific, amazing benefits of breastmilk. Which is why I’m sharing this list.
10 Ways Breastfeeding Benefits a Baby
1. Breastmilk has antibodies to every illness a mom has either had herself, or that she has been immunized against. After birth, if an infant gets sick, her mother immediately begins to produce breastmilk containing antibodies to that specific disease, whether or not the mom has had it herself.
2. Breastmilk contains white blood cells. These cells kill bacteria that gets into the milk, and they also kill any dangerous bacteria in a baby’s stomach and intestine. That same breastmilk then promotes an environment in a baby’s digestive tract that encourages healthy bacteria to grow. A natural form of probiotics!
3. When a baby is born too early, breastmilk helps the brain grow normally, and lowers the risk of learning problems. For all babies, breastmilk promotes good vision and nerve growth.
4. Breastmilk contains a whole group of little miracle components, such as “tumor-reducing factor” (which lowers a baby’s chance of getting cancer).
5. Breastfed babies have a reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
6. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of developing type I diabetes, (the childhood type), and type II, (what used to be known as the adult type).
7. Breastmilk contains hormones that calm babies.
8. Breastmilk takes on the flavors of the foods a mother eats. This helps prepare babies to be enthusiastic about the food its family eats.
9. Breastmilk evolves as a baby grows, so that during the first two years, a mother’s milk provides just what a baby needs at that age.
10. Studies show that breastfeeding may lower the incidence of allergies, asthma, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity, in children and teens.
Sources: my mom, a licensed lactation consultant; and The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine.
claireMarch 27, 2014 at 5:37 pm
Love this very factual list. I breastfed my son for 12 months. Not only was it the best for him, but helped me overcome my postpartum depression and anxiety. While it took a lot of work, he was a little too small, watching gain and develop those little rolls and chub, helped me know I was doing something right. When I had to go back to work at 9 weeks, it was the one thing that kept me close to my son while while I put in a 10 hour day. Breastfeeding, even a little bit, even for a few weeks, positively impacts the baby and the mom. Thanks for sharing these facts!
KathleenMarch 31, 2014 at 2:15 pm
Reading this as I feed my 13 day old son, thank you for the encouragement!
AlannaOctober 18, 2014 at 3:01 pm
I’m not sure that anyone reading this will have an answer, but if #1 is true then is there as much of a need to vaccinate my baby for the illnesses I’ve already had? I know vaccine vs non is another divisive issue, but I fall more into the no vaccine camp (I only had my MMR one, and got chicken pox and whooping cough naturally), and if my LO is getting the antibodies from me through breastmilk, then is it as much of a concern?
Amelia WinslowOctober 18, 2014 at 3:21 pm
Breastfeeding is not a substitute for vaccinating your baby. Breastfeeding does help enhance your baby’s immunity, especially while he/she is being exclusively breastfed, but the mom’s vaccines are not effective for baby. Here’s more background and a scientific explanation of why this is true: http://kellymom.com/bf/can-i-breastfeed/meds/vaccine-protection/. Thanks for asking this question – I hadn’t known the answer til your question prompted me to research 🙂
Meghan GhassemzadehJune 29, 2015 at 2:18 pm
I am wondering what you think is best for a baby to have as their first food (when the time is right of course) and what age you would start introducing food other than breastmilk. Thank you!
Amelia WinslowJuly 2, 2015 at 11:28 am
Great question, Meghan, and there’s no one right answer! Some great options include squash, avocado, sweet potato, peas, banana. I gave my daughter Lucy broccoli for her first food, blended with breastmilk, so it was slightly sweet. Her second food was a sweet corn tamale. So you can really do whatever fruit or veggie you feel comfortable with 🙂