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Publication #FCS8726

Breastfeeding: Benefits for Babies, Mothers, and Society1

Claudia Peñuela and Jennifer Hillan2

Breastfeeding is the best way to feed a newborn baby. Although infant formula is one convenient way of feeding infants, breastfeeding has several advantages for everyone—infants, mothers, and society.

Benefits for Babies

Breast milk contains an ideal balance of nutrients such as fat, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, and minerals that is easy to digest and also meets the nutritional needs of babies.

Breastfeeding even helps in the growth and development of a baby's jaws and future teeth, and can lower the chances of developing dental caries later in life.

Breastfeeding helps infants build a strong and well-developed immune system. Breast milk contains colostrum, which has antibodies that help protect against infections (e.g., ear infections, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, and meningitis) as well as against allergies, eczema, and asthma. It may also lessen the risk of obesity and juvenile diabetes. In addition, because breast milk is a baby's natural food, most infants are not allergic to the protein and can digest it more easily than formula.

Breastfeeding may even result in a higher score on the Mental Development Index, a test that measures a child's overall intelligence and may improve their visual function. Breastfeeding has even resulted in fewer incidences of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Finally, breastfeeding helps newborns feel more secure and comfortable because of close and regular physical contact.

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Benefits for Premature and Low Birth Weight Babies

Breastfeeding reduces the time in the hospital and in doing so reduces medical costs. It helps develop the brainstem and contributes to improving the pre-mature baby's immune system.

Benefits for Mothers

Mothers get a huge range of benefits from breastfeeding:

  • Helps mothers more easily recover their body shape and weight than mothers who formula feed (the production of milk by the mother is an activity that requires the use of 200–500 calories per day, on average)

  • Helps the uterus to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size and lowers risk of post-partum bleeding

  • Postpones the return of normal menstrual cycle for 20–30 weeks, which may reduce the risk of anemia and pregnancy

  • May reduce the risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and type-2 diabetes

  • Reduces the chances of post-menopausal osteoporosis

  • Is convenient for mothers since they do not have to buy, prepare, and mix formula

  • Saves time and money since the breast milk is immediately available when the baby is hungry

  • Allows mothers to rest while the baby is lying down

  • Builds a strong bond between mother and baby

  • Lets a mother rest if she pumped; the father or other caregivers can help with feeding the baby

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Benefits for Society

  • Reduces health care costs that are paid for by health insurance, government assistance, or families

  • Decreases women's lost work days due to caring for their sick children

  • Does not require energy that is used to prepare infant formula

• Is less harmful to the environment because breastfeeding does not require packaging or fuel that is commonly used for formula production

A woman has a right to breastfeed her infant. To learn more about Florida's laws concerning breastfeeding, see La Leche League International's quick summary at http://www.llli.org/Law/LawUS.html?m=0,1,0.

When should you NOT breastfeed?

Mothers with an inadequate diet, or who have other medical conditions such as HIV or AIDS, alcohol or drug users, or those taking certain prescription medicines, should use infant formula to feed their babies!

Be sure to speak to your health care provider when making this important decision.

Some Tips for Breastfeeding

  • Breast milk is easy to digest by infants, so breastfeed your baby as often as she/he wants it.

  • Dry your nipples after feeding to prevent cracking and pain.

  • Drink lots of water and fluids.

  • Continue to take your prenatal vitamin.

  • Maintain a healthy diet.

  • Breastfeed as long as you are able. The longer you breastfeed, the better for your baby.

References & Resources

Footnotes

1.

This document is FCS8726, one of a series of the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences Department, Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida. First published April 2002 as Benefits of Breastfeeding. Revised August 2009. Reviewed, with minor revision: September 2012. Visit the EDIS website at http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu.

2.

Claudia Peñuela, nutrition assistant-EFNEP, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences; Jennifer Hillan, assistant in., College of Medicine, University of Florida; Florida Cooperative Extension Service, Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.


The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.