The Short- and Long-Term Benefits of Breastfeeding

Meagan Church | August 5, 2013

Fatna lives in a camp for internally displaced persons outside Kubum, in South Darfur, where a CWS partner provided water, sanitation and other emergency services. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT-Caritas

Fatna lives in a camp for internally displaced persons outside Kubum, in South Darfur, where a CWS partner provided water, sanitation and other emergency services. Photo: Paul Jeffrey/ACT-Caritas

When it comes to newborn and infant nutrition, breast is best. Numerous studies have shown that when a mother chooses to breastfeed, she provides herself and her child with a variety of short-term and long-term health and wellness benefits. Not only do the positive effects cover simple factors, such as convenience, but also even more impressive ones. Breastfeeding is the world’s most effective tool in reducing early childhood deaths. Infants who are not exclusively breastfed are 15 times more likely to die from pneumonia and 11 times more likely to die from diarrhea. In short, breastfeeding improves quality of life for both mothers and children and saves lives

The following list discusses just a few of the documented examples of the benefits of breastfeeding:

Short-term benefits for the baby:

  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of illness due to contaminated water, which under some conditions can occur with formula.
  • Breast milk is a source of lactose and essential fatty acids that help a baby’s brain grow and develop.
  • Breast milk helps regulate healthy bacteria in the baby’s gut.
  • Breastfed babies have fewer cases of ear infections, gastrointestinal infections, bacterial meningitis, urinary tract infections, late-onset sepsis in pre-term babies, and more.
  • Breastfeeding encourages skin-to-skin contact and nurturing, working to soothe and comfort the infant.
  • Colostrum—the first milk produced at birth—contains high amounts of carbohydrates, protein and antibodies, and it has yet to be replicated as formula.
  • Breast milk works as an antibiotic against E. coli and staphylococci, among others.

Long-term benefits for the baby:

  • Breastfeeding as an infant can lead to higher IQ, especially if breastfed exclusively and for a longer period of time.
  • Babies who are breastfed have a lower risk of obesity later in life.
  • Children and adults who were breastfed have a lower rate of food allergies, asthma, eczema, Celiac Disease, and Type I and Type II diabetes, among others.

Short-term benefits for the mother:

  • Breastfeeding releases the “love” hormone oxytocin in the mother, which improves the bonding between mother and baby.
  • The release of oxytocin after birth also aids in contracting the uterus to prevent postpartum hemorrhage and to reduce the uterus to pre-pregnancy size.
  • Women have a decreased risk of iron-deficiency anemia while nursing.
  • Fertility and chance of becoming pregnant is greatly reduced in the first six months of exclusive breastfeeding, aiding in family planning.
  • Milk production helps with post-partum weight loss.

Long-term benefits for the mother:

  • Moms who breastfeed have lower rates of ovarian, breast and endometrial cancer.
  • Women who breastfed may have higher bone density and lower rates of osteoporosis later in life.

Breastfeeding is about more than simply providing a child food; the data shows it is a vital way to help ensure a child develops to her/his full potential. During the 1,000-day window from a mother’s pregnancy to her child’s second birthday, breastfeeding is central in giving kids the right start to life, building the foundation for a healthy and prosperous future. The mother benefits. The child benefits. Entire countries benefit when their children are healthy and strong. When breastfeeding is encouraged and supported, we all win.

“A Well-Kept Secret: Breastfeedings’ Benefits to Mom” by La Leche League International

“Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk” by American Academy of Pediatrics

“101 Reasons to Breastfeed” by Nursing Nurture

“The Benefits of Colostrum in Breastmilk” by American Pregnancy Association

“Kids Who Were Breastfed Longer Have Higher IQs, New Study Shows” by NBC News

“It’s World Breastfeeding Week!” by 1,000 Days

Meagan Church is a writer, children’s book author and the brainpower behind, which explores the realities of birth, babies and beyond. She lives in the Midwest with her high school sweetheart, three children, two cats and golden retriever. Her passions include running, black coffee and simple, yet intentional living. Connect with her on Twitter @unexpectant.