The many benefits of breastfeeding

An increasing number of mothers are realizing the many health benefits of breastfeeding. According to Wisconsin statistics provided by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2012:

  • 81.3 percent of infants were breastfed at some time
  • 48.7 percent were breastfed at age 6 months
  • 21.9 percent were breastfed at age 1 year

Benefits to babies

Research shows that breastfeeding provides babies with numerous health benefits, such as:

  • Nutrition: Human milk contains the perfect balance of nutrients in a form that is easiest for a baby to digest. These nutrients promote healthy development of the brain, nervous system and eyes. Some of these nutrients are not available in commercial baby formulas. In addition, breast milk changes over time to keep pace with an infant’s growth and changing nutritional needs. Research shows that breastfed babies perform better on intelligence tests later in life and develop better eye function.
  • Immune protection: Breast milk contains antibodies that the mother’s body has developed to fight illness and infection. These antibodies are transferred to the breastfed infant through the milk, boosting his or her immune system. Research shows that breastfed babies have significantly lower risk of Crohn’s disease and other gastrointestinal problems, ear infections, respiratory illnesses, meningitis and childhood lymphoma.
  • Decreased health risks later in life: Research shows that breastfed babies have a lower risk of obesity and heart disease later in life.
  • Emotional development: Breastfeeding promotes development of a healthy emotional bond between mother and baby.
  • Bioavailability: This term refers to how efficiently the human body can use the nutrients in a food. Breast milk has high bioavailability, meaning that an infant benefits more from a nutrient obtained from breast milk than the same nutrient obtained through other foods.
  • Suitability: This term refers to how much energy the human body must expend to digest a food. Breast milk is easier for an infant to digest than other foods. This high suitability is believed to be one reason breastfed babies develop fewer allergy-related skin conditions and asthma.

Benefits to mothers

Research suggests breastfeeding also may provide health benefits to mothers, including:

  • Increased bone density
  • Reduced risk of postpartum bleeding
  • Lower risk of ovarian and breast cancers
  • Decreased risk of heart disease later in life
  • Improved brain and nervous system development
  • Lower stress level
  • Lower risk of postpartum depression (National Institute of Health study)
  • More convenient
  • Less expensive