Deciding whether or not to breastfeed your child is a deeply personal matter and supporters on both sides of the issue tend to have strong opinions. Most experts agree that breastfeeding provides a number of unique benefits for a growing baby, including a perfect balance of nutrients and the building blocks of a stronger immune system. Below are some of the most important benefits that breastfeeding can offer your child.
1. A Stronger Immune System
Breast milk contains antibodies and unique compounds that help your child’s body fight off bacterial and viral infections. Babies that have been exclusively breastfed are much less likely to be hospitalized for illnesses and they have a significantly lower risk of ear infections, respiratory illness, and gastrointestinal distress.
2. Fewer Allergies
Studies suggest that babies fed formulas based on cow’s milk are more likely to suffer from childhood and adult allergies. Breast milk is easier to digest and helps protect the intestinal tract from inflammation and leakage, which in turn prevents undigested proteins from causing allergic reactions. Breastfeeding has also been linked to a lower risk of childhood asthma.
3. A Better Bonding Experience
Breastfeeding provides emotional benefits for both mother and child. Research shows that breastfeeding causes a mother’s body to release hormones that reduce stress and create feelings of relaxation. For a baby, close physical contact is especially important and breastfeeding provides the perfect opportunity to hold and comfort them. In some cases, breastfeeding can even help a mother overcome postpartum depression.
4. Saves Time and Money
One benefit of breastfeeding that many people don’t consider is the fact that it’s free. Not only is formula expensive, but you also have to consider the cost of bottles and nipples. For mothers on the go, breastfeeding is also less time-consuming: there is no need to measure and mix formula, clean bottles, or warm bottles up before feeding your child.
5. Fewer Chronic Diseases
In addition to keeping your baby healthy, breastfeeding has been linked to a lower incidence of many chronic diseases later in life. Adults that were breastfed during infancy are less likely to suffer from diabetes, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and breast cancer. Additionally, mothers who breastfeed have a lower chance of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis.
6. Healthier Bodyweight
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding makes a child less likely to suffer from both childhood and adult obesity. Breast milk contains less insulin than formula and more of the hormones that the body needs to regulate fat absorption. On average, babies fed on formula gain weight more quickly and are also more likely to overeat throughout their life.
The bottom line is that breast milk is perfectly tailored for a baby’s nutritional needs. Breast milk contains a variety of nutrients and compounds that can’t be replicated by formula, and these unique properties provide both mother and child with a number of benefits that can affect your child throughout their entire life. Most experts, such as the American Academy of Pediatrics, suggest exclusively breastfeeding a child for at least six months before switching to formula.
More resources on this topic:
Office on Women’s Health
La Leche League International
Books on breastfeeding:
Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, 6th Edition: Birth to Age 5
The Happiest Baby on the Block
Need breastfeeding essentials? Here are some suggestions.