The benefits of breastfeeding might be too numerous to count. And even if we could list all the known benefits, we would be missing something!
Research is constantly discovering more ways that breastfeeding is beneficial. It’s truly an amazing thing we women are blessed to do.
In this article, I’ll go over the best benefits of breastfeeding. If you’re trying to decide between formula or breastfeeding, I hope this information is useful!
What Are The Benefits Of Breastfeeding
Here are some of the main benefits of breastfeeding:
- Deepens Attachment. When breastfeeding, the hormone oxytocin is released. This hormone is extremely powerful. It promotes bonding between a newborn baby and mommy. Just feeling your baby’s skin against your own, and knowing you are giving them nourishment nobody else can is great for bonding too!
- Nutritional Benefit. There’s so much to cover here. Breast milk itself is packed full of incredible benefits. It has over 200 components – most that can’t be duplicated by formula.
- Mom’s Health. Breastfeeding helps with postpartum weight loss, reduces the risk of bleeding and decreases cancer risk.
- Baby’s Health. For your baby, breastfeeding offers amazing benefits. It helps prevent allergies and infections, and is the easiest thing for their tiny stomach to digest.
- Free & Convenient. Let’s be practical! Breastfeeding is ideal for moms on a budget – it’s free! Formula can cost thousands of dollars per baby. And breastfeeding is convenient, available anywhere, anytime as long as you’re with your baby.
It might seem like a small list… but there is a lot that goes into each individual part! We’ll talk about the benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and mommy.
Benefits Of Breastfeeding For Baby
Lets start with the benefits of breastfeeding for baby!
1. Gives Baby More Control
First, breastfeeding gives your baby more control. What I mean is that with breastfeeding, your baby can really determine how much they eat per feeding. With a bottle often a baby will eat until the bottle is empty.
This could be due to gravity helping the milk or formula flow faster, or it could be from a mommy’s worry that her baby isn’t getting enough. There’s speculation that encouraging a baby to finish their bottle will translate into them finishing their plate as they grow older, leading to weight gain.
With breastfeeding, a baby can eat as much as they want and stop when they want. Breastfeeding doesn’t place the liquid at the back of their throat forcing them to swallow, nor use gravity. It’s completely baby-led, allowing baby to rest and take as much milk as they want.
2. Helps Your Baby’s Brain Grow
The 3 essential nutrients for your baby’s brain to grow are cholesterol, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), and taurine. While cow’s milk does contain cholesterol, the processing of formula removes it. And there isn’t DHA or taurine in cow’s milk at all!
That means your baby isn’t getting these 3 nutrients to help their brain grow. They need the right building blocks, and breast milk offers exactly that.
Your baby’s brain will grow a lot in the first few years of their life, so breastfeeding is extremely beneficial.
If for some reason you can’t breastfeed, your baby will be fine. Formula is specially designed to offer adequate nutrition… but breast milk really can’t be beat. It contains all the building blocks your baby needs for optimal brain growth.
3. Nutrient’s Are Bioavailable
Formula has all the nutrients your baby needs for nutrition and to sustain them… but it doesn’t come close to breast milk! All of the nutrients found in breast milk are bio-available – in a special form for your baby to absorb.
For example, breast milk contains a fraction of the amount of iron that formula does. But your baby can actually absorb more iron from your breast milk than formula! It’s in a bio-available form that’s perfect for your baby to absorb. Only about 10% of the iron in formula is absorbed, compared to almost 100% of the iron in breast milk.
Additionally, breast milk contains ligands and enzymes (not found in formula) to help babies absorb all the vitamins and nutrients they need. A lot of the nutrients found in formula passes through baby’s digestive tract without being absorbed – which is part of the reason why formula poop is smellier and thicker than breast milk poop.
4. Hormones Are Present
Your breast milk contains hormones that help your baby regulate. For example, there are hormones in your breast milk that help your baby sleep. If you’ve lived through sleepless nights with a baby, you’ll understand what a benefit that is!
Additional hormones include growth factors which not only help your baby generally grow, but also help their digestive system become more mature. Breast milk perfectly prepares your baby’s stomach and intestines for digestion as they get older.
5. Reduces Health Risks
This study investigated the effect of breastfeeding on various diseases, and found it was extremely beneficial… for the rest of a baby’s life!
Breastfeeding was protective against insulin resistance and diabetes, high blood pressure, cancer, heart disease, autoimmune diseases and mental health. Breastfed babies across the board have better health outcomes for all of these health concerns.
The heath risks are reduced for their entire life, not just during the time they breastfed. So breastfeeding your baby can have lifelong benefits.
6. Protection Against Infection And Sickness
Breast milk contains many beneficial ingredients to protect against infection and sickness. Leukocytes, antibodies, and antimicrobial factors give a baby stronger immunity in the first weeks and months of life when their own immune system is weak.
Breastfed babies have fewer GI tract infections, less ear infections, and less UTI and respiratory tract infections.
When you or your baby come down with a cold, your breast milk even creates new antibodies specific to that illness! It can prevent your baby from getting sick, or help them recover much quicker.
7. Better Development Of The Mouth
Breastfeeding works babies’ mouths differently than bottle feeding. With a bottle, the rubber nipple is stiff and can change the shape of their mouth and teeth.
When a baby breastfeeds, their tongue is extended over their bottom gums to help massage the milk out of their mom’s breast. They actively massage the milk ducts to release breast milk. In order to be effective, your baby uses many muscles in their mouth, jaw and neck. They also create a vacuum with suction to expel the milk.
When using a bottle, babies don’t have to do any massaging motion to expel the milk. The only movement they make is to create a vacuum to draw in the milk. But sometimes, they don’t do much of that either (if gravity is helping the milk flow out).
Benefits Of Breastfeeding For Mom
Breastfeeding has tons of benefits for mommy too, it’s amazing how it affects us the rest of our lives. Here’s the list of benefits that a mommy gets from breastfeeding.
There’s just something about breastfeeding that makes a mom feel empowered. That’s true for me personally. Although my breastfeeding journey didn’t start out easy, when we finally got the hang of it I was extremely proud.
The fact that I had overcome struggles and was able to successfully breastfeed gave me a sense of empowerment. It wasn’t just overcoming the struggles, but also the fact that I was giving my baby something made perfectly for them that only I could give.
It’s hard to beat a feeling like that. It’s born out of our own bodies and combined with love and wanting what’s best for our babies.
2. Lower Chance Of Obesity Later
Breastfeeding decreases a mom’s risk for obesity later in life. Having children can take a toll on our bodies. Not only do we gain fat through pregnancy, but taking care of children limits our own time to recover in the gym.
Breastfeeding is a fantastic way to recover after childbirth. The average breastfeeding woman burns an extra 700 calories per day making milk. Additionally, breastfeeding helps her uterus return to normal size.
When breastfeeding, our body pulls fat into our blood stream from other parts in our bodies. The fat is deposited into our breast milk, and gives our baby their main source of calories. So breastfeeding literally takes the fat right off.
3. Decreased Risk For Osteoporosis
When we breastfeed, our body pulls nutrients into the breast milk. While that sounds like it isn’t good for a woman’s health, the opposite happens during weaning.
When a mom weans off breastfeeding, her body absorbs nutrients, vitamins and minerals at an exponential rate. She is especially able to absorb calcium more efficiently. Calcium supplements during weaning help with this as well, because at no other time for the rest of her life (unless she weans again) will she be able to absorb calcium more efficiently.
4. Reduces Health Risk
The longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her risk for certain types of diseases and cancers. The risk drops significantly if a woman breastfeeds for longer that one year in her life. That is the total time breastfeeding, even if only feeding 2 children for 6 months.
The risk of a heart attack, strokes, high blood pressure and diabetes is reduced in the breastfeeding mom according to this study. Additionally, the breastfeeding mom has a lower future risk of ovarian and breast cancer.
5. Less Chance Of Pregnancy
Breastfeeding decreases the change of pregnancy significantly, especially in the first 6 months after birth. In fact, breastfeeding is 98% effecting as a form of birth control if these 4 conditions are met:
1. Baby is less than 6 months old
2. Baby is exclusively breastfed
3. Your period hasn’t returned
4. You feed baby on demand throughout the day when they’re hungry
If you follow those 4 conditions, breastfeeding can be a very effective form of birth control. Remember though, that still leaves 2 in 100 pregnant so just to be safe use another form of birth control if you’re trying to prevent pregnancy.
Benefits Of Breast Milk
Breast milk is often called “liquid gold” and there’s plenty of reason for it! The components of breast milk are vast and impressive. As of right now, there are over 200 known ingredients in breast milk – and researchers are still finding more!
Breast milk contains living cells that prevent viruses and bacteria from growing. It gives your baby immunity that they otherwise wouldn’t have.
Breast milk also contains growth factors, hormones, an array of vitamins and minerals, enzymes and various proteins. Researchers have recently discovered that breast milk even contains stem cells – and they’re looking into all the beneficial things the stem cells do!
In contrast to breast milk, formula contains less than half of the beneficial components. Take a look at the graphic below and you will see the incredible difference between breast milk and formula.
The benefits of breast milk greatly outweigh formula. However, we are extremely lucky today to have the option of formula. It’s the best thing for babies next to breast milk. But when put side-by-side, you can see how much more beneficial breast milk is.
This chart was adapted from this list of all the beneficial ingredients in breast milk versus formula.
How Long To Breastfeed To Get Benefits
Curious how long you have to breastfeed for all the benefits? Well for your baby, just one drop of your breast milk is amazing!
Colostrum is the first milk you start to produce after birth. It has inti-infective properties that line your baby’s stomach to prevent passage of germs and harmful proteins. It also contains healing components and helps your baby pass their first stool. Colostrum contains 7 times the beneficial anti-infective properties than mature milk.
So if you only breastfeed once, or for one day, your baby is getting a huge benefit!
More benefits come the longer you breastfeed. Babies that breastfeed for longer than 4 months have a lower risk of childhood lymphoma, leukemia, diabetes, and Crohn’s Disease. 4 months of breastfeeding also reduces childhood asthma and allergies.
Babies breastfed for longer than 6 months have decreased respiratory tract infections and less ear infections.
12 months seems to be the magic number for mom’s benefits! A mom that breastfeeds for longer than 12 months has a lower likelihood of ovarian and breast cancers as well as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke.
Breast milk is amazing. One drop of it it fantastic, 4 months offers great protection, 6 months offers even more and 12 months gives mommy huge benefits! Breastfeeding for at least the first year of life is recommended by most experts, and many recommend breastfeeding for the first 2 years.
Advantages and Disadvantages Of Breastfeeding
Okay, so we’ve talked about all the benefits of breastfeeding. What are the disadvantages?
Well… most of the disadvantages are perceived by the mother. For example, breastfeeding can be seen as inconvenient for a working mother or when trying to breastfeed in public.
Newborns often eat 10-12 times per day, and some eat more frequently. Frequent feedings in the newborn phase can be overwhelming.
Some moms feel guilt, shame or embarrassment. It’s a sad thing that breastfeeding isn’t more accepted, but its acceptance is growing so hopefully some of these feelings will start to disappear!
Another difficulty with breastfeeding involves the dad. Some want to be included in feeding the baby by offering a bottle. Many couples try to designate dad as the cuddler – so he has a role to play too, but doesn’t feel left out from feedings.
Ultimately, breastfeeding has many amazing benefits. But some of the disadvantages can affect breastfeeding. It’s up to each mom what she wants her breastfeeding journey to look like!
When breastfeeding problems arise, sometimes formula seems like a great option. And it is the best alternative to breast milk.
The only time a baby shouldn’t be breastfed is if they have a disorder called galactosemia. It is extremely rare, preventing the baby from tolerating breast milk. Newborn screens are done on every new baby in the US, and this is part of the testing. As long as your newborn screen comes back normal, breastfeeding is extremely beneficial!
The Best Alternative To Breastfeeding
I’ve touched on this already, but I can’t stress enough that formula is the best alternative to breastfeeding.
It doesn’t have the beneficial components that breast milk does, but it’s thoroughly researched and developed. Formula is safe for babies and delivers them the correct amount of macronutrients for growth.
You might hear about recipes or alternative options to baby formula. STAY AWAY from those! Babies need to have a perfect balance, especially when it’s their only form of nutrition.
If you have to give your baby formula, rest assured you are doing what’s best for your little one.
Benefits Of Breastfeeding Conclusion
Breastfeeding is chock-full of amazing benefits! Breast milk offers your baby unique and perfectly fine-tuned nutrients. And breastfeeding offers tons of health benefits for both mommy and baby!
If you have questions or need help breastfeeding, please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I am a Certified Lactation Counselor and Nurse who loves helping moms achieve breastfeeding success.
Kealy Hawk, BSN, RN, CLC
Kealy is a Registered Nurse, Lactation Counselor, and most importantly a mommy! Her own baby feeding struggles gave her a passion to help moms throughout their feeding journey. She specializes in breastfeeding support and evidence-based formula recommendations. To talk with Kealy or take one of her breastfeeding or formula classes, visit https://littlebearcare.com.