Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom and Baby
The birth of your baby is a time filled with joy — and seemingly endless decisions. One of the most common questions is whether to breastfeed and for how long.
Breastmilk is the best food for your baby. The World Health Organization is clear that there is no better supply of nutrition, beneficial bacteria, antibodies and growth hormones for a baby.
You’ve heard that “breast is best”. Below is our guide to the benefits of breastfeeding.
What are the breastfeeding benefits for babies?
From essential nutrients and enhanced immunity to special bonding moments, breastfeeding supports optimal growth and long-term health for your baby.
Breastmilk contains all of the essential nutrients a newborn needs, and in the right amounts and ratios. Experts recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months (and ideally up to one year) because the composition of breastmilk actually adapts to meet the baby’s changing nutritional needs as they grow.
Antibodies and disease prevention
Colostrum, or the first release of breastmilk, is rich in antibodies that help the body fight harmful viruses and bacteria. Research shows that babies that are exclusively breastfed for the first six months are less likely to suffer from gastroenteritis, colds and flu, ear and chest infections and thrush.
The types of proteins found in breastmilk are easily digested, allowing your baby’s digestive systems to develop. Breastmilk is also rich in probiotics that help populate the baby’s digestive system with positive bacteria.
Back to sleep
Breastfeeding releases the feel-good love hormone, oxytocin, in both baby and mom. This hormone helps babies get back to sleep after they’ve been fed. Other hormones and biochemicals in breastmilk help set healthy sleep-wake circadian rhythms, too.
Studies suggest that breastfeeding offers long-term benefits to children, such as the prevention of obesity, type-2 diabetes, eczema and cardiovascular diseases.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding for mom?
Babies aren’t the only ones who get to benefit from the pros of breastfeeding.
Convenient and inexpensive
Breastmilk is a source of food and hydration that is always available for your baby. It doesn’t need preparation or storage. Breastmilk that’s delivered from the breast is always at the right temperature and is safe to consume anywhere, anytime and without the need to sterilize bottles.
Bonding with your baby
Regular close interaction and skin-to-skin contact during breastfeeding encourages a close mother-infant bond. The feel-good hormone, oxytocin, is released in both mom and baby, creating a lasting loving connection.
Breastfeeding helps the uterus contract back to normal size, and it’s also associated with a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
One of the most cherished benefits of breastfeeding! Just as breastfeeding can have sleep benefits for newborns, mothers who breastfeed can fall back to sleep faster. The oxytocin and other hormones released during breastfeeding promote sleepiness in both mom and baby.
How long should I breastfeed my baby?
Six months is generally accepted as the minimum amount of time to breastfeed for.
It’s important to note, however, that the duration can vary depending on various factors, including the mom and baby's preferences, health considerations, and cultural norms.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends infants are breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life and continuing breastfeeding beyond six months along with complementary foods for at least two years and beyond, as desired.*
What are the benefits of breastfeeding by month?
Breastmilk changes to adapt to the needs of a baby at every stage:
First few days
- Breastmilk provides colostrum, the nutrient-rich first milk, which helps establish the baby's immune system and promotes healthy digestion.
- Immediately enhances bonding between mother and baby through skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding cues.
- Boosts hormones that support mum’s recovery from labor and birth complications.
First few weeks
- The baby’s immune system and weight gain needs more support, and breastmilk provides antibodies and essential nutrients for protection against infections and illnesses.
- Breastfeeding continues to assist the mom's postpartum recovery by promoting uterine contractions and reducing bleeding.
- This stage establishes breastmilk supply and eases breast engorgement pain.
- Breastmilk continues to strengthen the baby's immune system with a wide range of antibodies, probiotics and immune-boosting factors.
- A baby’s internal organs are growing, and they learn how to control their breathing. Breastfeeding can prevent asthma and allergies, and protect against respiratory infections.
- Breastfeeding at three months could prevent symptoms of depression in mom.
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of gastrointestinal infections, respiratory infections, and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
- As breastmilk continues to supply optimal nutrition for brain development, breastfeeding also supports the development of fine motor skills and jaw muscles because it requires different mouth and tongue movements than bottle feeding.
- Breastfeeding can continue as solids are introduced. For more information about starting solids, head over to our article: Introducing solids to your baby.
- During this time, breastmilk is a great source of nutrition to support growing bones, muscles and organs.
- Breastmilk becomes rich in long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (LCPUFAs) which enhance cognitive development and promote brain growth.
- At this age, breastfeeding especially helps infants develop self-soothing and emotional regulation skills.
- Breastfeeding continues to offer immune support, reducing the risk of ear infections, respiratory infections, and gastrointestinal infections.
- Breastmilk provides tailored nutrition with changing composition to meet the evolving needs of the growing baby.
- There may be a reduced risk of mom developing health conditions like ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and heart disease.
Beyond 12 months
- The benefits of breastfeeding after 12 months include ongoing immune protection. It continues to lower the risk of allergies, asthma and certain childhood cancers.
- Breastfeeding an infant can reduce their physical pain, comfort their emotions, and further increase bonding between mom and baby.
- For support at each month along the way, reach out to our consumer Careline via our Contact Us page, or visit one of the links at the bottom of this page to learn more from the World Health Organization (WHO), American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Are there any challenges with breastfeeding?
Breast is best, but there are challenges.
Recovering from childbirth can involve exhaustion, health complications, and adapting to life with a newborn. Adding breastfeeding for some can make life feel insurmountable, and the first few weeks can be painful. Many women experience cracked nipples, engorged breasts, fluctuating milk supply, and even mastitis.
Pain usually subsides within the first few weeks, but other difficulties can pop up at any time.
A healthy diet is essential for a healthy breastfed baby. Some might find it challenging to watch what they consume for the duration of breastfeeding. Caffeine, some medications and alcohol all pass through to the breastmilk.