Choosing whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed your newborn baby is a personal decision. In fact, it is one of the first important decisions that a new mother needs to make.
However, the World Health Organization as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommend breast milk as the best thing you can give to your child.
According to the AAP, exclusive nursing is essential during the first 6 months of life and has wide-reaching and long-lasting effects on your baby’s health and development.
Not just babies, mothers also benefit from breastfeeding their newborns.
Here are the top 10 benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies.
1. Supports Baby’s Growth and Development
Breast milk has the perfect combination of proteins, fats, vitamins and carbohydrates that help your baby grow and develop properly. Plus, the leukocytes as well as antibodies, enzymes and hormones present in breast milk make it the ideal food for newborns.
The proteins in breast milk are easily digested and have great infection-protection properties.
The calcium and iron in breast milk, which are needed for healthy bone development, are also more easily absorbed. Plus, breast milk contains healthy fats that are necessary for brain, retina and nervous system development.
Lactose, the primary carbohydrate found in breast milk, improves the intestinal absorption of calcium, magnesium and other minerals in infants.
2. Boosts Immune System
Food allergies, eczema and asthma are less common in babies who are breastfed for at least four months. This is mainly due to colostrum or first milk which is produced within the first few days after giving birth.
It is a low-fat, high-protein breast milk that has a positive influence on your newborn’s immune responses and lymphoid tissue. This makes babies more resilient to germs, bacteria, viruses and other pathogens.
Additionally, breastfeeding increases the benefits of vaccination.
A 2003 study published in the Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology found that breastfeeding helps protect against future development of allergic diseases, but possibly less so in countries with an untoward maternal fat intake.
Another study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association in 2006 found that breastfeeding provides immune protection and helps prevent various diseases in the perinatal period.
A recent 2015 study published in Clinical and Experimental Allergy reports that breast milk contains a variety of molecules that can influence immune responses in the gut-associated lymphoid tissue of a neonate.
3. Greater IQ
It has been found that breastfed babies may have the advantage of a higher IQ over formula-fed babies.
The cognitive benefits are linked to the long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, specifically docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and arachidonic acid. Specific proteins in breast milk also promote brain development.
A 2007 study published in the Journal on Developmental Disabilities reports that feeding with breast milk over infant formulate provides the infant with a measurable advantage on some, but not all, scales of cognitive development.
A study published in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2008 reports that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding improves children’s cognitive development.
Another 2013 study published in NeuroImage reports that infant breastfeeding is linked to improved developmental growth in late maturing white matter association regions. At the same time, extended breastfeeding duration is associated with improved white matter structure and cognitive performance.
4. Lowers SIDS Risk
Nursing your baby for at least six months may help prevent sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), the sudden death of an infant less than 1 year old for which a cause cannot be found at autopsy.
A 2009 study published in the Journal of Pediatrics reports that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS by more than 50 percent at all ages throughout infancy. The study strongly recommends breastfeeding through 6 months of age to reduce SIDS risk.
Breastfed infants awaken more easily from sleep, which in turn protects against SIDS. In addition, breastfeeding aids in building the immune system that protects an infant from infections.
Along with breastfeeding, make sure to keep the crib or bassinet free from toys and extra clothes.
5. Reduces Cancer Risk
Breastfeeding is encouraged to reduce the risk of cancer in children as well as nursing mothers.
A 2008 study published in the Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health found that breastfeeding was inversely associated with pediatric cancer, and the protection increased with the duration of full breastfeeding.
A 2012 study published in the Journal of Human Lactation found high levels of the cancer-fighting TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand (TRAIL) in human milk provides better protection against illnesses like lymphoblastic leukemia and Hodgkin’s disease.
A recent 2015 study published in Acta Paediatrica found that breastfeeding for more than 12 months was associated with a reduced risk for mothers of developing breast and ovarian carcinoma by 26 percent and 37 percent, respectively.
6. Better Eyesight
Breastfeeding your baby even reduces the chance that your child will need to wear glasses later.
According to a 2007 study by researchers from the Institute of Child Health in London, children who were breastfed as infants have better eyesight than those who were formula-fed.
The researchers studied 262 children between the ages of 4 and 6. Of these children, 78 had been breastfed and 184 had been given formula milk. Breastfed children had greater stereoscopic (three-dimensional) vision.
A higher concentration of the fatty acid DHA in breast milk is the reason behind better eyesight. DHA is one of the prime structural components of the retina of the eye.
Plus, breast milk is good for combating eye infections. The natural antibiotic qualities in it help fight infection.
7. Promotes Healthy Digestive System
Breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from diarrhea and upset stomach. The right balance of nutrients in breast milk helps babies develop a healthy digestive system. In particular, the fat- and antibody-rich colostrum helps babies adapt to the needs as they grow.
Plus, the protein in breast milk is more easily and completely digested by babies. Breast milk also ensures a proper balance of good bacteria in an infant’s gut.
A 2014 study published in the International Breastfeeding Journal reports that early initiation and exclusive breastfeeding protects against infant diarrhea and acute respiratory infections.
Plus, gastroesophageal reflux is less severe in breastfed infants than those who are formula fed. This is because human milk is emptied faster from the stomach.
8. Aids Mom’s Weight Loss
Breastfeeding is associated with lower postpartum weight retention.
It helps burn extra calories and reduce stored fat, thus helping new mothers return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly without dieting.
To nurse a baby, a mother needs an extra 400 to 500 calories daily to produce sufficient breast milk. But, at the same time, nursing burns up to 500 calories a day.
A 2008 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that women who gain a reasonable amount of weight during pregnancy and breastfeed exclusively are mostly likely to lose the extra pounds six months after delivery.
To fit into your skinny jeans faster, start breastfeeding your baby now.
9. Supports Oral Health
Breastfeeding helps the jawbone and muscles of the upper airway develop, which is important for better alignment of the oral cavity in babies.
Exclusive breastfeeding for four to five months reduces the risk in babies of suffering from malocclusion, which means misalignment of the teeth and dental arches. It also reduces the risk of baby bottle tooth decay.
A 2007 Brazilian study published in Revista de Saúde Pública suggests that breastfeeding for more than nine months is the most effective way to prevent malocclusion or posterior cross bite.
A 2015 study published in Pediatrics reports that exclusive breastfeeding for up to 6 months of age helps prevent open bites and malocclusion.
No matter what, it is important for mothers to regularly monitor whether their child’s baby teeth, and later permanent teeth, are coming in at the right time.
10. Reduces Diabetes Risk
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of diabetes in both the nursing mother and her infant. Diabetes can lead to serious complications, such as cardiovascular disease, nerve damage, kidney damage, eye damage, foot damage and skin problems.
A 2007 study published in Diabetes Voice suggests that encouraging and supporting breastfeeding for all mothers and babies may have a substantial impact on both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
Mothers without diabetes even reduce their risk of diabetes later in life, while mothers with diabetes can reduce their requirement for insulin and improve glycemic control. For babies, breastfeeding appears to lower the risk of both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
According to a report published in Current Diabetes Reviews in 2011, lactation confers protection against developing both Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes in the future.
A recent 2015 study published in Acta Paediatrica concludes that breastfeeding is associated with a 32 percent lower risk of Type 2 diabetes in mothers.
- As your baby depends on your breast milk for healthy nutrients, it encourages you to make healthier food choices.
- Breastfeeding helps a mother’s body manage postpartum hormones.
- Exclusive breastfeeding can cause amenorrhea, or absence of a period after childbirth, lasting at least twice as long as mothers who choose to bottle feed.
- Nursing also helps babies see the world in friendlier terms as it boosts the production of oxytocin, the feel-good hormone.
- Breastfeeding puts mothers at a lower risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis as compared to those who do not.
- Breastfeeding also creates a special time that allows a mother and baby to bond emotionally.
- Breast milk is always safe, fresh and exactly the right temperature, which makes nighttime feedings a lot easier and convenient.
- Breastfeeding is also good for the environment, since there are no bottles to wash or formula cans to throw away.
- As there is no need to buy and measure formula, sterilize nipples or warm bottles, breastfeeding saves you time and money.