Breast feeding has numerous health benefits for both the mother and the baby.
Part one of this series will cover the benefits that the baby receives when they are exclusively breastfed. Next week, part two, will cover the health benefits for the mother.
From the very first feeding, breastmilk helps babies grow healthy and strong. Colostrum milk is made by the mother during pregnancy and just after birth. It is very thick and is a rich, gold color. Colostrum is very rich in nutrients and includes antibodies to help protect the baby from infections. Colostrum also helps the baby’s digestive system to grow and function strongly. One of the most interesting facts about breast milk is that it changes throughout the baby’s life to help meet the baby’s nutritional needs. Three to five days after birth, colostrum changes into mature milk. The mature milk contains the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein to help the baby grow properly. (1)
Breastfed babies have lower risks of: (1,2,3)
Leukemia (during childhood)
Obesity (during childhood)
Eczema (atopic dermatitis)
Diarrhea and vomiting
Lower respiratory infections
Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Type 2 diabetes
Urinary tract infections
Another major benefit of breastfeeding to the baby is that it will help the baby to develop a stronger immune system.
Breast milk provides a plentiful number of nutritional components that enhance the immune system including antioxidants, enzymes, immune properties, and live antibodies from mother that are easily absorbed by the baby. (3) The mother’s immune system works to make antibodies to the germs that she and her baby have been exposed to during pregnancy and throughout the baby’s first year of life.3 These protective elements of breast milk not only help the baby while they are breastfeeding but also long after they have been weaned. (4) I want to make it clear, infant formula cannot provide this protection. (4)
So how does breast milk help the baby develop a strong immune system?
Breast milk supports the growth of healthy bacteria in the intestinal tract of the baby. (4) This happen because breast milk works to promote a healthy environment in the baby’s gut. Prebiotics, which are found in human milk, are the main element that supports the growth of healthy bacteria. Breast milk encourages the growth of these good strains of bacteria and helps to inhibit the bad bacteria (i.e. E. coli) from growing, multiplying, and attaching to the baby’s intestinal tract. (4) As previously noted, this is not seen with babies who are formula fed. Infants, who are fed formula, have greater rates of diarrheal diseases. (4)
Of note, there are only two true contraindications to breastfeeding including with:
Infants who have classic galactosemia (2)
Mothers, in the United States, who are infected with human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) (2)
About the Author: Leanne DiMaio earned her Master’s degree in Applied Clinical Nutrition from New York Chiropractic College in December 2017. She is currently working on her Doctorate degree in Clinical Nutrition degree at Maryland University of Integrative Health.Leanne is passionate about helping others achieve their optimal state of health and wellness. She is currently earning clinical hours toward the Certified Nutrition Specialist (CNS) credential under Kim Ross's supervision.
Office on Women’s Health in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Making the decision to breastfeed. Womenshealth.gov. 2018. Available at: https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/making-decision-breastfeed. Accessed May 6, 2018.
American Academy of Pediatrics. Benefits of Breastfeeding. Aap.org. 2018. Available at: https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Breastfeeding/Pages/Benefits-of-Breastfeeding.aspx. Accessed May 6, 2018.
Cleveland Clinic. The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby & for Mom. Cleveland Clinic. 2016. Available at: https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15274-the-benefits-of-breastfeeding-for-baby--for-mom. Accessed May 6, 2018.
Healthy Children. Breastfeeding Benefits Your Baby's Immune System. HealthyChildren.org. 2006. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Breastfeeding-Benefits-Your-Babys-Immune-System.aspx. Accessed May 6, 2018.
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