- In This Feature
- Benefits of Breastfeeding
- Breast Milk: The Perfect Food
- Protects Against Disease
- Health Benefits for Baby
- Improves Women's Health
- Quicker Weight Loss
- Reduces Obesity in Children and Teens
- Promotes Mother/Infant Bonding and Emotional Well-Being
- More Convenient/Less Expensive
- Expands Your Social Circle
- Encourages Infant/Father Bonding
Protects Against Disease
At birth, a newborn's immune system is not fully developed. Infant formula contains no immunological properties to help safeguard a baby from infection. Breast milk, on the other hand, is concentrated with white blood cells and antibodies that fight disease.
Colostrum is rich in Secretory Immunoglobulin A, an antibody that protects a baby's mucus membranes (including the throat, lungs, and intestines) from viruses and bacteria. Compared to formula-fed infants, breastfed babies contract fewer middle ear, upper and lower respiratory infections, colds, pneumonia, meningitis, urinary tract infections, allergies, asthma, and eczema. Breastfed babies also tend to have less instances of diarrhea, which can quickly dehydrate a newborn and require hospitalization. The chances of developing lymphoma, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's Disease and Celiac Sprue (bowel disorders) are also lower for children who have been breastfed for the first year.
"The essence of what breastfeeding provides is immune protection," says Dr. Alicia Dermer, MD, IBCLC, and clinical associate professor in the Department of Family Medicine at the University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. "A mother breathes in whatever bacteria or viruses are around and then makes antibodies specific to her environment, and that are especially tailored to her baby. That is how one mother's milk might be different from another's.
According to the National Women's Health Information Center, breastfed babies also respond better to immunizations against polio, tetanus, diphtheria, and Haemophilus influenzae than formula-fed babies.
"The longer mom breastfeeds, the more benefits she and the baby get," says Tammy Arberter, CD, IBCLC, and a lactation consultant at Pennsylvania Hospital in Philadelphia. "The World Health Organization recommends that women breastfeed for the first year and then continue for as long as it is mutually desired by Mommy and Baby. If you do that, you are going to get maximum benefits."