The Benefits of Breastfeeding: They're Not Just for Baby

There are so many nutritional, developmental and general health benefits to breastfeeding. But did you know those benefits go beyond your baby? Dr. Marianne Neifert breaks gives you a breakdown of all the benefits of breastfeeding. In this article, you'll learn

  • how breastfeeding benefits mom and baby
  • what the benefits of breastfeeding are for dad
  • if there are any benefits to breastfeeding for the siblings
  • what the benefits of breastfeeding to society as a whole are
mother breastfeeding her newborn

The advantages of breastfeeding compared to formula-feeding are numerous, diverse and convincing. These advantages extend not only to babies but to their mothers, families and society.

One might assume that the merits of breastfeeding would be widely recognized and enthusiastically promoted within families, the health care system and the greater community. The truth is that the advantages of breastfeeding must be rediscovered by each new generation of parents.

While the marketing of infant formulas represents a lucrative industry, human milk attracts little commercial interest. Expectant parents get bombarded with advertising from infant formula companies, while the promotion of breastfeeding depends largely on testimonials from other mothers and the endorsement of enlightened health professionals.

Breastfeeding proponents may not have any slick ads or a big advertising budget, but nothing has yet been manufactured by man that can compete with the natural benefits breastfeeding can provide your baby, yourself and your family.

Breastfeeding Benefits for the Baby

In my experience, the numerous health benefits to infants are the chief reasons parents give for choosing to breastfeed. Prospective parents who are informed about the compelling arguments in favor of breastfeeding usually are motivated to give nursing a try.

After all, what parent doesn't want the very best for his or her baby?

An in-depth discussion of the advantages of breastfeeding and human milk easily could fill an entire text. Every year, scientists discover new ways that human milk enhances an infant's health and development.

The most commonly cited infant benefits of breastfeeding are reviewed below.

The Ideal Food for Infants

The proteins in human milk include disease-fighting antibodies and many other important immune properties.

All infant feeding experts agree that human milk is nature's perfect design for feeding babies, and that it is uniquely suited to promote optimal infant growth and development. Human milk contains more than two hundred constituents-proteins, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, trace metals, growth factors, hormones, enzymes, antibodies, white blood cells and more-each in ideal proportion to one another.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Baby

This precise biochemical balance-virtually a "symphony of ingredients"-cannot possibly be duplicated artificially. The components in human milk represent more than necessary nutrients, and many play multiple roles in promoting the health and development of babies.

The proteins in human milk not only provide essential building blocks for growth, but also perform other vital functions, including helping to protect babies from illness. The proteins in human milk include disease-fighting antibodies and many other important immune properties.

Human milk has less protein than the amount added to formulas because breast milk protein is utilized more efficiently by babies. It forms a softer curd that is more easily digestible than cow's milk or formula curd.

Breastfed babies feed more often than formula-fed infants because their stomachs empty sooner. Proteins break down into amino acids, the composition of which is ideally suited to meet the unique requirements of infants.

The fats in human milk provide its major source of energy and are essential for the optimal development of the infant brain and nervous system. Breast milk conveniently contains a fat-digesting enzyme, lipase, that aids an infant's fat digestion.

Human milk is rich in long-chained polyunsaturated fatty acids, including docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential omega-3 fatty acid. DHA is present in large amounts in human milk, and is also added to formula. DHA is found in the infant's rapidly developing brain and eye tissue and is necessary for proper brain and eye development.

It is not yet known whether an infant diet lacking the fatty acid composition of human milk has permanent adverse effects. However, a study found poorer visual ability in formula-fed premature babies than in those fed breast milk.

Human milk is also rich in cholesterol, while formulas have little or none. Although the significance of this is unknown, research in rats suggests that animals who consume high levels of cholesterol in infancy may be better able to cope with dietary cholesterol and maintain a lower cholesterol level in later life.

The predominant carbohydrate found in milk is lactose, also known as milk sugar because it is found only in milk. In addition to being an important source of calories, lactose improves the absorption of certain minerals, including calcium.

Lactose also promotes the growth of harmless intestinal bacteria in the breastfed baby's gut. These benign bowel germs create an acid environment that helps protect against the proliferation of harmful bacteria that cause infant diarrhea.

Human milk is a dynamic fluid, varying in composition depending on the stage of lactation, the maternal diet, the time of day and other factors. The first milk your breasts produce, known as colostrum, is scant in volume, but high in protein, rich in immunities and easily digested by your baby.

Over the first ten days, colostrum gradually changes to mature milk, which is lower in protein and higher in lactose and fat. Although thinner in appearance, mature milk remains unmatched in nutritional quality.

The fat content of milk is low at the beginning of a feeding and increases throughout the feeding. Breast milk is easily digested and produces loose bowel movements that are passed easily and that are not unpleasant smelling.

Species Specific

An intimate bond is forged during the feeding process, ensuring the close, attentive parental care necessary for survival and growth.

One of the strongest arguments for the superiority of human milk in infant feeding is the way the milk of each species of mammal is specifically tailored to the unique growth needs of its young. So specialized is the process of lactation that the composition of the milk, the location and number of nipples and the frequency of feedings all are designed to optimize the survival and development of the offspring.

In general, the nutrient content of a particular mammal's milk is directly related to the rate at which the newborn doubles its birth weight. Mammals with more dilute milks typically feed their young at close intervals, while those with more nutrient-dense milks feed less frequently.

Aquatic and cold-weather mammals, like whales and polar bears, produce milk with an extremely high fat content to ensure sufficient calories to maintain an insulating layer of blubber. Human babies are among the most immature mammalian newborns, completely dependent on adults for care and survival.

Human babies also have one of the slowest rates of growth, taking about four-and-a-half months to double their birth weight. As expected, human milk is among the most dilute of all mammalian milks, and our feeding pattern is a frequent one-every-couple-of-hours around the clock.

This frequent feeding schedule provides an additional benefit. Each time the baby is positioned to nurse, the distance between his eyes and his mother's face is ideal for allowing him to focus well. An intimate bond is forged during the feeding process, ensuring the close, attentive parental care necessary for survival and growth.

Inadequacies of Infant Formulas

Even minor differences between human milk and formula could have important consequences . . .

While mother's milk is the gold standard upon which all infant formulas are modeled, it is impossible to create an infant formula that exactly mimics your own milk.

For one thing, all the ingredients in human milk have not been fully identified. Scientists are constantly discovering new properties in human milk that are absent in formulas, or are gaining new understandings about the function of a previously known component of human milk.

Whenever it is possible to add an essential ingredient to formulas, manufacturers scramble to modify their product to more closely resemble human milk.

While I am grateful that infant formulas are available for those instances when they are needed, we must never lose sight of the fact that human milk is uniquely superior to any breast milk substitute and it is impossible to precisely match, no matter how many times a product is "improved."

We also must remember that many components of breast milk simply cannot be incorporated into formulas. Although manufacturers are able to produce formulas containing approximately the same percentage of protein, fat and carbohydrate found in human milk, the quality of each of these nutrients differs significantly from the composition of breast milk.

Even minor differences between human milk and formula could have important consequences, since a newborn is totally dependent on a single food during a critical period of growth and development.

Finally, remember that formulas are based on cow's milk, and it is virtually impossible to change the milk from one mammal into that of another. Thus, no formula will ever be able to exactly duplicate your own milk.

Even if clever advertising messages try to convince you that a particular formula is "closest to mothers' milk," infant formulas actually represent a distant second choice.

Protection Against Infant Illnesses

Breastfed infants, especially those who nurse exclusively for four to six months, experience only half as many ear infections as formula-fed infants.

Breast milk contains many substances that benefit your baby's immune system, including antibodies, enzymes, white blood cells and other factors. Antibodies against germs to which the mother recently has been exposed appear in her milk a short time later to protect her baby against the same infecting organisms.

Breastfeeding provides the greatest protection against illness in developing countries. However, even in the United States and other developed nations, the protective effect of breastfeeding is significant against diarrhea, ear infections, pneumonia and other illness.

Diarrhea. Infant diarrhea is a major cause of childhood illness in the United States, resulting in more than a million office visits, 200,000 hospitalizations, and about 1,00 deaths each year. It has long been recognized that breastfed infants have far fewer bouts of diarrhea and vomiting than formula-fed babies.

If a breastfed infant does develop an intestinal illness, continued nursing usually is well tolerated and the duration of illness is shortened. The protective effect of human milk against diarrhea is greatest while a baby is exclusively breastfed.

Premature infants are particularly susceptible to a serious, potentially life-threatening bowel infection known as necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). Several studies, including a large, multi-centered study of nearly 1,000 infants, have found that NEC occurred more commonly in premature infants who were solely formula-fed compared to those who were fed breast milk alone.

Respiratory Illness. Breastfeeding helps protect against serious lower respiratory illnesses, such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis, as well as upper respiratory infections, including ear infections.

Respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-the most common cause of serious respiratory illness in infants and young children-is responsible for 600,000 infant hospitalizations and about 550 deaths each year in the United States. Breastfed infants have fewer RSV infections, and when they do get sick with RSV, they have less severe cases and fewer hospitalizations.

Ear Infections. Ear infections are the most common childhood illness, accounting for nearly 30 million pediatric office visits each year. Nearly half of all infants get at least one ear infection in their first year of life, and close to 20 percent of babies suffer from recurrent ear infections (three or more bouts in six months).

Breastfed infants, especially those who nurse exclusively for four to six months, experience only half as many ear infections as formula-fed infants.

Other Illnesses. Recent studies suggest that breastfeeding provides substantial protection against urinary tract infections in infancy and early childhood. Breastfed infants have a lower risk of blood-borne infections and spinal meningitis compared to bottle-fed babies. Breastfed infants also appear to be protected from the most severe form of infant botulism, a rare illness that results when Clostridia botulinum spores, present on agricultural products, including honey, are consumed by infants. (Honey should not be fed to infants under one year.)

Lower Risk of Chronic Immune System Disorders

Several studies comparing possible causative factors associated with childhood cancers have found the duration of breastfeeding to have been significantly greater among healthy children than children with cancer. The findings are most prominent for cases of childhood lymphoma.

Some studies have shown a reduced risk of diabetes in breastfed children, especially those with a longer duration of exclusive breastfeeding.

Evidence is also accumulating to suggest that breastfeeding provides significant protection against inflammatory bowel disease (Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis). These disorders can cause chronic diarrhea, fever, poor growth and other symptoms.

Some Protection Against Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Parents deserve to know all the factors that potentially can reduce their child's risk of SIDS.

Much national attention has been given to the relationship between the prone (tummy-down) sleeping position in infants and the incidence of SIDS. The American Academy of Pediatrics has recommended that the prone position be avoided for sleeping infants and that babies be placed to sleep on their backs.

Several other factors have been shown to reduce the risk of SIDS but have received far less publicity, including not smoking, breastfeeding and not overheating infants. Parents deserve to know all the factors that potentially can reduce their child's risk of SIDS.

Impacting Development and Maturation

Many of the hormones and growth factors in human milk have only recently been identified, and their importance to babies is not yet fully understood. Some hormones appear only in the colostrum, others are present only in later milk, while still others are present in variable amounts throughout the course of lactation.

These precisely regulated hormones may influence the timing of certain developmental events in the baby. So little is known about the various hormones and growth factors in human milk that it is impossible to try to replicate them in formulas. Meanwhile, no one knows whether what a baby eats in early life will later affect his well-being as a senior citizen.

Whether nutrition in early life has a long-term impact on brain development remains controversial. However, several studies involving both full-term and preterm infants have found a link between later cognitive performance and method of infant feeding.

Children who were breastfed as infants achieved significantly higher scores on a variety of intelligence tests compared to those who had been artificially fed. The differences attributed to breastfeeding were distinct from other factors known to influence intelligence, such as education and socioeconomic status of the parents.

Security and Comfort for Your Infant

The breastfeeding relationship involves unique giving and receiving between mother and baby. A baby has a regular and vital need for her mother's milk and physical closeness, while a mother's full breasts regularly need to be relieved and drained. Thus, breastfeeding assures that mothers and babies remain intimately connected through the making and taking of milk.

This reciprocal interaction can deepen the bond between a mother and baby and continue long after breast milk has been the sole source of a baby's nutrition. The breastfeeding relationship can extend into the second and third year, or even beyond, as a means of intermittently soothing and emotionally satisfying a toddler as he or she becomes more independent.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Mom 

Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Mom

In addition to the many infant health benefits just cited, breastfeeding clearly is advantageous to a mother's well-being. Consider the following:

Breastfeeding Helps Shrink Your Uterus

By putting the baby to the breast immediately after birth, postpartum bleeding can be reduced.

When this hormone is at work during the first few days of breastfeeding, you might notice some contractions of your uterus while nursing. These afterpains, as they are called, are more pronounced among women who have delivered more than one baby.

While oxytocin's effect on the uterus can produce temporary discomfort, it also can be lifesaving for some women in settings where access to medical care is limited. By putting the baby to the breast immediately after birth, postpartum bleeding can be reduced.

In the United States, it is customary to give an intravenous injection of synthetic oxytocin after delivery to help control uterine bleeding. Before the advent of modern technology, routine breastfeeding after birth offered the best protection against postpartum hemorrhage.

Breastfeeding Helps Mothers Lose Some Pregnancy Weight

It is nature's plan for pregnant women to store fat reserves to be used to subsidize lactation. That's why the combined weight of the baby, placenta, amniotic fluid and blood lost at delivery doesn't add up to the total weight gained during pregnancy.

After the first month, many breastfeeding women find they lose about two pounds a month while lactating, and they may return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner than bottle-feeding women.

Protection Against Osteoporosis and Hip Fracture

Osteoporosis is an age-related bone loss that leads to brittle bones and fractures of the hip, wrist, spine and elsewhere. This crippling bone disease affects approximately one in three women over 60 years of age.

Studies of postmenopausal women have shown higher bone mineral densities in those who have breastfed. A study of Australian women over 65 years found that having breastfed offered a protective effect on the risk of hip fracture in old age.

Reduced Risk of Cancer

Several studies also have shown a protective effect of lactation against ovarian cancer.

Approximately one in nine women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Many of the established risk factors for breast cancer are beyond our control, such as age at first menstruation, age at menopause, family history of breast cancer and age at birth of first child.

However, breastfeeding is one factor within a woman's control that can reduce her breast cancer risk. A number of studies have shown a significant protective effect of breastfeeding against pre-menopausal breast cancer. In general, the effect increases with the cumulative months of lifetime breastfeeding.

It is estimated that if all women who gave birth were to achieve a combined breastfeeding duration among their children totaling 24 months or longer, the national incidence of pre-menopausal breast cancer might be reduced by nearly 25 percent.

One study suggests that being breastfed herself is a possible factor that lowers a woman's risk of breast cancer.

Several studies also have shown a protective effect of lactation against ovarian cancer. One of the most important of these studies found a 20 to 25 percent reduction in risk of ovarian cancer for women who breastfed at least two months.

Convenience 

When you breastfeed, you can conveniently take your infant with you anywhere, knowing your milk will be ready for her whenever she is hungry. Despite power outages, snow storms or natural disasters, the breastfeeding mother can feed her hungry baby, in the absence of electricity or potable water.

I often enjoyed the freedom of traveling and camping with a nursing baby, without being bogged down by formula preparation.

Breastfeeding in the middle of the night is much more convenient than going to the kitchen to mix and warm a bottle of formula. With your newborn in a bassinet at your bedside, you can scoop up your baby when she gets hungry and nurse her without leaving your bed. Some women choose to sleep with their nursing infants in the same bed and scarcely have to disrupt their sleep for feedings.

Before I'm accused of overselling the convenience of breastfeeding, let me acknowledge that the first few weeks with a new baby are a particularly exhausting time. When breastfeeding is just getting launched and feedings seem to preoccupy a great deal of time and everyone is overwhelmed with the demands of a new baby, "convenience" in relation to any aspect of baby care might seem a remote concept.

In this article, I offer advice to help you survive the early weeks and get off to a successful start so that you really can enjoy the remarkable convenience of long-term breastfeeding.

Suppressed Mentrual Periods

Studies confirm that breastfeeding provides 98 percent protection against pregnancy, as long as a woman can answer yes to three questions . . . 

Women who breastfeed fully, without supplementing their baby with formula, may go months or a year or more without menstruating. Not only does amenorrhea (lack of periods) provide limited birth control as discussed below, but it conserves iron stores and helps the body replenish the iron lost during fetal development, childbirth and postpartum bleeding.

The suppression of the menstrual cycle during exclusive breastfeeding also offers a contraceptive effect during the early postpartum period, although this effect declines over time. The Lactational Amenorrhea Method, or LAM, is a postpartum introductory method of contraception that uses three criteria to define the period of lowest pregnancy risk.

Studies confirm that breastfeeding provides 98 percent protection against pregnancy, as long as a woman can answer yes to all three of the following questions:

  • Are you less than six months postpartum?
  • Are you breastfeeding exclusively, without the use of formula supplement or solids?
  • Have you been amenorrheic (no periods) since delivery?

Alternate methods of birth control should be used if a woman's periods have returned, if routine supplements have been introduced, or if a breastfeeding woman is more than six months postpartum. Alternate methods of birth control also should be used if a breastfeeding woman is unwilling to accept even a remote risk of pregnancy.

Breastfeeding Is Cost Effective

That's not to say you won't spend any money by breastfeeding, but you'll spend a lot less than the cost of formula. Feeding a baby is an expensive proposition; ready-to-feed formula costs more than three dollars a day. It takes only a fraction of that to feed a nursing mother the additional 500 calories required daily to produce sufficient milk.

However, I believe most sources that promote the advantages of breastfeeding err on the side of overstating how inexpensive it is. When the anticipated cost savings of breastfeeding are overemphasized, many parents, expecting to breastfeed for free, may be reluctant to spend any additional money to assure their success.

Despite the anticipated cost savings of breastfeeding, I strongly encourage expectant parents to budget some funds to help them achieve their breastfeeding goals. It is unrealistic to assume that you will have no expenses associated with breastfeeding.

The fact is that feeding a baby costs money, and you might as well spend your dollars providing the very best nutrition. Some women may want to purchase nursing clothing or a sling that allows them to breastfeed discreetly in public.

Others may need to rent an electric breast pump to maintain lactation while they are employed outside the home. Still others may encounter breastfeeding difficulties requiring professional consultation or the purchase of breastfeeding aids.

By budgeting for the likelihood of such expenses, parents will be better prepared to spend a little extra, should the need arise.

Keeping Your Options Open

There are only a couple of times in a woman's life when she can nurse a baby, but anyone can feed a bottle anytime.

You can always stop nursing and switch to bottle-feeding later if you prefer. If you begin bottle-feeding, however, you might wonder whether you would have enjoyed the chance to breastfeed.

Whenever a woman has any ambivalence about how to feed her baby, I urge her to at least begin breastfeeding. Why close the door too soon on something you might really enjoy if you would just give it a try?

Besides, there are only a couple of times in a woman's life when she can nurse a baby, but anyone can feed a bottle anytime.

Far More Than a Method of Infant Feeding

Breastfeeding is a style of mothering and nurturing, as much as the act of nourishing your infant at your breast. Nursing serves not only as the source of life-sustaining food, but also as a way to provide warmth, succor and the consolation of a mother's touch.

Whether the newborn cries out for food or human contact, once suckled at the breast, his every need is met. Whether the fretful toddler searches for the nipple to return to sleep, calm a fear or soothe an ache, she finds peace nestling at the breast.

"Token," or occasional, breastfeeding cannot be equated with "unrestricted" breastfeeding where a baby nurses at will. The mothering and nurturing aspects of breastfeeding prompt some adoptive mothers and others who may not produce a full milk supply to endeavor to nurse their babies even partially in order to experience the interactions unique to breastfeeding.

While nutritional superiority and immune benefits can be quantitated and appreciated by virtually anyone, the nurturing and interactive aspects of breastfeeding may be hugely undervalued unless one has experienced firsthand what it means to view breastfeeding as a form of mothering.

Employed women and other mothers who must be separated from their babies, can attest that feeding expressed breast milk by bottle is not the same as breastfeeding.

You Have to Take a Break

Breastfeeding breaks can pull a hectic mother away from the distractions of her other duties to force her full attention on her infant, thereby renewing her perspective.

The hormones prolactin and oxytocin, which are released during breastfeeding, have been called "mothering" hormones because they produce a peaceful, nurturing sensation. Having to take a break and nurse your baby actually has a calming effect on a busy mother.

Breastfeeding breaks can pull a hectic mother away from the distractions of her other duties to force her full attention on her infant, thereby renewing her perspective.

The whole time I was raising five infants, I maintained a near-frenetic pace as a medical student, intern, resident and junior faculty member. "Needing" to nurse my baby was a breath of fresh air, forcing me to sit down, become fully engaged with my infant, and refocus my energies.

I would have considered it a great loss had I not experienced the intimate giving and receiving that characterized my own personal breastfeeding relationships.

Breastfeeding Benefits for Dad

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Dad

You might not have considered the many ways your baby's father can benefit from being part of a breastfeeding family. Although fathers often worry that they will feel left out of the breastfeeding experience, the truth is that fathers are positively impacted when their babies are breastfed.

The Benefits of a Healthier Partner and Healthier Infant

Naturally, a father wants to assure the welfare of his partner and his baby. His support, encouragement and direct help can be the decisive factor in a woman's breastfeeding success. When his infant is breastfed, a father experiences pride and confidence, knowing he has contributed to the healthiest outcome for his baby and his partner. Fewer infant illnesses mean less disruption of family life and less expense, while the long-term health benefits to his partner can have a powerful impact on their quality of life.

Increased Flexibility

We had no one with whom we could leave our baby, so Larry was delighted to discover that we easily could take Peter with us and still enjoy an outing together.

The baby can be fed anywhere without any preparation or fuss, and a breastfed infant can be consoled and quieted in virtually any setting, simply by nursing.

When our first son was born, my sailor husband had just returned from being stationed overseas during the Vietnam conflict.

We still were getting reacquainted ourselves after enduring a six-month separation when we were suddenly thrust into our new, unfamiliar roles as parents. We had no one with whom we could leave our baby, so Larry was delighted to discover that we easily could take Peter with us and still enjoy an outing together.

When our middle child, Tricie, was only a month old, we drove from Denver to California to visit Larry's family. Although Peter and Paige were only three and two, I found the trip to be thoroughly manageable because of the convenience of breastfeeding.

Making an Important Contribution

Certainly, feeding is one of the most gratifying and visible ways adults give care to newborns. I have even met a few parents who chose to bottle-feed specifically to allow the father to play an equal role in child rearing.

While I believe that babies ideally need and deserve both a mother and a father, I am convinced that the dual parental roles are meant to complement one another, not to compete with one another.

The enlightened father doesn't lament, "I feel so left out when she's nursing my son; there's nothing for me to do." Instead, he recognizes his unique role as the principal supporter of the mother, the one who enables her to nurture the baby in an optimal fashion.

He views supporting his partner through lactation as a logical continuation of his support role during pregnancy and his coaching role during labor. The enlightened father encourages and compliments his breastfeeding partner every chance he gets, brings a glass of juice to the nursing mother, gives her a back rub, changes the baby's diaper and helps with household chores.

Fathers of breastfed infants soon learn that there are many ways, apart from feeding, that they can bond with their babies, e.g., bathing, massaging, rocking and playing with their infants.

Breastfeeding Benefits for the Siblings

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Siblings

You may not have given much thought to how your other children will be enhanced by your decision to breastfeed. But even siblings can be recipients of some important benefits of witnessing their mother breastfeed a younger brother or sister.

Firsthand Exposure to the Functional Role of the Breast

Today's children are bombarded with the image of the bottle-feeding baby. Bottles and formula are highly visible in the media, on supermarket shelves, and in public. Dolls come with bottles; bottles appear in children's books and as decorations on baby items.

Children should not have to grow up believing that bottle-feeding is the societal norm. If they are exposed to breastfeeding as a part of family life, they assume it is the natural way to feed a baby.

Perhaps you have observed youngsters who lift their shirts and put their doll or teddy bear to their own breast. These children often are those who were breastfed well into toddlerhood or who witnessed their siblings being nursed.

One nursing toddler I know had been exposed to numerous breastfeeding infants among her mother's friends, and she had never seen a baby drink from a bottle. When a bottle-fed baby, Christopher, joined her day care home, the little girl was fascinated by his strange method of taking milk.

The next time she saw a woman bottle-feeding at the mall, she turned to her mother and said, "Christopher," believing the only baby who drank from a bottle was Christopher. 

Benefits of Breastfeeding to Society

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Society

Breastfeeding is more than a personal or family matter, and the decision to breastfeed affects more than an individual mother-baby pair or a single family. Breastfeeding rates have a powerful impact on the whole society by affecting the health of mothers and babies, the economy, and the environment.

Society Benefits When Babies Have the Best Possible Start in Life

The babies being born today will be our country's leaders tomorrow, and the nutrition they receive in infancy will serve as the cornerstone of their optimal growth and development. When our nation's children are given every chance to reach their full potential, all of us stand to benefit. Conversely, when babies face health disadvantages because of their early diet, we all pay the price

Human milk uses no natural resources and generates no industrial waste. On the other hand, the production of formula, cans, bottles, nipples, labels, packaging and advertising uses trees, metal, glass, plastics, paper and fuel.

Artificial feeding of infants creates an enormous volume of waste materials. In hospital nurseries, formula-fed babies are offered a single-use glass or plastic bottle up to eight times a day. Often, little more than an ounce is consumed from a three- or four-ounce bottle and the rest is discarded.

Breastfeeding Saves Americans Money

The average family of a bottle-fed baby spends $750 to $1,000 each year on formula. The U.S. government spends hundreds of millions of dollars each year purchasing formula for the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC).

Fewer Hospitalizations and Fewer Infections

Studies confirm that insurance payers spend more health care dollars on the medical costs of formula-fed infants than breastfed infants.

The additional number of illnesses needlessly suffered by formula-fed babies translates into staggering medical costs. The medical and surgical treatment for childhood ear infections alone has been estimated to cost $3 to $4 billion per year. The annual cost of hospitalizations due to RSV infections is over $300 million, while diarrhea illness in childhood costs almost $1 billion.

Increasing breastfeeding rates could drastically decrease societal health care costs by greatly reducing the number of infections and resulting hospitalizations during infancy. Studies confirm that insurance payers spend more health care dollars on the medical costs of formula-fed infants than breastfed infants.

Current Infant-Feeding Recommendations

With all the advantages just cited, it should come as no surprise that the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), together with numerous other health professional organizations, recognizes breastfeeding as the ideal method of feeding and nurturing infants.

In 2012, the AAP released an updated breastfeeding policy statement that strongly recommends human milk as the preferred feeding for infants and acknowledges breastfeeding as primary in achieving optimal infant and child health, growth, and development. The AAP recommends a diet of exclusive breast milk as ideal nutrition for about the first six months of life, during which babies more than double their birth weight.

Iron-enriched solid foods should be added to the infant's diet, beginning around six months, with breastfeeding continuing for at least twelve months, and longer if mother and baby desire. If breastfeeding is discontinued before a year of age, infants should drink iron-fortified infant formula and not receive cow's milk until after twelve months of age.

Still not sure whether you should breastfeed or bottle-feed? Check out the advantages and disadvantages of both.