Surprising Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby and Mama

The benefits of breastfeeding are pretty well known among breastfeeding mamas but these OLD and NEW discoveries might surprise you.

The benefits of breastfeeding are pretty well known among breastfeeding mamas but these OLD and NEW discoveries might surprise you.

Of course, natural mamas have always known that breast milk is a wonderful form of nourishment for babies, loaded with nutrients and protective antibodies that help babies grow, boosts their delicate immune systems, and improves overall health. But every day it seems like researchers discover additional benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and child. Read on to learn all about it!

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby

1. Provides ideal nutrition

First and foremost, breast milk provides the best nutrition for infants and growing babies. Everything that makes up breast milk gives your baby exactly what they need to grow and get stronger, from the fats and carbs to the antibodies and hormones.

Plus, with breastfeeding you don’t have to worry about buying the right kind of formula or mixing it correctly. The components of breast milk change as your baby grows, from protein-rich colostrum to prebiotic-rich mature milk, your breast milk is always giving their body what it needs to thrive.

2. Promotes bonding

When your baby is at your breast, you’re bonding through skin-to-skin contact. And studies show that one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding is that it builds trust and love. As a result, these same studies suggest breastfed babies are less likely to internalize problems when older and are less likely to suffer from depression.

3. Boosts immune function

When mama is exposed to germs, her body develops antibodies to fight them off. Guess what? Studies prove that when you breastfeed, those antibodies are passed onto baby, building their immune system without directly exposing them to nasty germs.

4. Reduces frequency of ear infections

Similarly, a breastfed baby is likely to have fewer ear infections than a formula-fed baby. According to one study, just one month of breastfeeding reduced the risk of ear infections by as much as four percent and six months of breastfeeding reduced the risk of ear infections by 17 percent.

“While it is not completely clear why ear infections may be related to bottle feeding, it could be because bottles can create a negative pressure during feeding. This negative pressure is then transferred from the bottle to the middle ear of the infant during feedings, which may precipitate ear infections.” — study author Sarah Keim, PhD

5. Helps reduce SIDS risk

Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is a terrifying prospect to new parents, but in addition to creating a safe sleep environment, breastfeeding also reduces the risk of SIDS.

In fact, studies suggest breastfeeding your baby for just the first two months of their life can halve the risk of SIDS death! Scientists aren’t 100 percent sure why, but they theorize that it could be due to the fact that breastfed babies don’t sleep as deeply as formula-fed babies.

6. Reduces frequency and severity of colds

Colostrum, the highly concentrated milk expressed at the beginning of baby’s life, contains an extremely large amount of antibodies that helps build baby’s immune system from the get-go, but studies suggest breastfeeding for up to six months further decreases colds and other respiratory infections.

7. Decreases allergies

According to research, one of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it reduces the risk of food allergies in babies. Because of these studies, many allergists now recommend that mothers should eat eggs, peanuts, gluten, dairy, and other highly allergenic foods while pregnancy and breastfeeding.

8. Lowers asthma risk

Another one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding for at least six months? Studies say it can reduce baby’s risk of developing asthma-related symptoms, including wheezing, shortness of breath, dry cough, and persistent phlegm, in early childhood.

What’s more? The same study found evidence that the first asthma-related symptoms occur earlier in life in children breastfed for shorter lengths of time or not exclusively.

9. Reduces symptoms of Celiac Disease

According to studies, breastfeeding can’t prevent Celiac’s altogether, but breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months can delay the onset of celiac symptoms by an average of 15 months and significantly reduce the severity of symptoms.

10. Lowers chance of developing Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)

Those who suffer from IBS have issues with gas, diarrhea, bloating, and cramping. But studies suggest breastfeeding can help prevent your child from dealing with these uncomfortable and embarrassing issues. The results show that breastfed babies are 26 percent less likely to develop a bowel disease, such as IBS, Crohn’s, and Ulcerative Colitis.

11. Cuts obesity risk

Studies suggest breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity in childhood. Researchers believe this may be because breastfeed babies learn to recognize when they’re full and can better self-regulate their caloric intake. Also, the hormones in breast milk that affect food intake regulation and energy balance could impact body fat composition.

12. Promotes better vision

Those moments at your breast with baby looking up at you do more than bond the two of you; they also help your baby’s eyesight develop. Baby’s vision develops over time, but when they’re breastfeeding and focusing on your face it strengthens their vision. Even more fascinating? These benefits of breastfeeding are lasting—in one study, 10- to 12-year-olds who were breastfed were 42 percent less likely to develop nearsightedness than their peers who were not breastfed.

13. Increases IQ

There’s evidence that breastfed babies score higher on IQ tests in the beginning of life than non-breastfed babies. In one study, elementary-aged children who were breastfed scored up to 7.5 points higher on IQ tests. In another study, adults who were breastfed scored higher on verbal, performance, and comprehension tests. What’s more? Study authors say, because of this, breastfed individuals tend to earn 20 percent more than the average income level.

14. Lowers risk of certain cancers, particularly leukemia

There is also evidence that one of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it reduces a child’s risk of developing cancer, particularly leukemia. In the study, children who were breastfed for 10 months versus four to six months had lower rates of cancer.

15. Improves dental health

According to a recent study, breastfed babies are less likely to develop any kind of misalignment (open bite, crossbite, and overbite, for example) in their teeth later in life.

Though researchers aren’t sure why, individuals who were exclusively breastfed for three to six months are 33 percent less likely to have an overbite compared to those who weren’t. The risk of overbite was 44 percent lower when babies were breastfed for six months of more.

Similarly, children who were exclusively breastfed for three to six months were 41 percent less likely to have moderate to severe misalignment and babies who were breastfed for six months were 72 percent less likely to have misalignment.

16. Expands culinary horizons

If you eat a varied diet while breastfeeding, there’s evidence that baby is less likely to become a picky eater later in life. In fact, kids who were breastfed exclusively for the first six months were 81 percent less likely to reject food during preschool years, 78 percent less likely to develop a preference for specific food-preparation methods, and 75 percent less likely to be fearful of trying new foods.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom

That’s quite a list of benefits of breastfeeding for baby, right? Don’t feel left out, mama, because there are benefits of breastfeeding for you, too!

1. Helps the uterus contract after birth

When you breastfeed, your body releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin. This hormone is often called the “cuddle hormone,” because it helps promotes bonding, but it also helps your uterus contract. And all that contracting helps stop after-birth bleeding, heal your uterus, and shrink it back down to its pre-pregnancy size.

2. Reduces pain associated with c-section

Moms who breastfed for up to two months after a c-section delivery are three times less likely to experience pain than moms who don’t breastfeed, according to a study done by the European Society of Anaethesiology. What’s more? Only eight percent of moms who breastfed for longer than four months still reported chronic pain as a result of the surgery.

3. Reduces the risk of postpartum depression

Research suggests that moms who breastfeed for up to four months are less likely to experience postpartum depression, thanks to all the endorphins that are released when you nurse. In particular, studies suggest breastfeeding prevents the sharp drop in prolactin after delivery—something that scientists believe contributes to postpartum depression.

3. Helps shed pregnancy weight

An unexpected benefit of breastfeeding? According to Jan Riordan, author of Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, moms who exclusively breastfeed their babies need an average of 400-500 more calories per day. Your body is working overtime to produce all that milk for baby, and this may help some mothers lose excess pregnancy weight more quickly. For other moms, their bodies need to hang on to the extra fat reserves to produce milk—these women may not see the same drop until baby begins to eat solids around six months.

4. Reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers

Research suggests that one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding for mama is that it reduces your risk of developing breast cancer later in life. According to the data, a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer reduces by 7 percent for each baby she has and a further 4.3 percent for every 12 months she breastfeeds.

5. Promotes heart health

Breastfeeding also has a positive impact on your heart’s health. Moms who breastfeed are at lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Researchers aren’t entirely sure if this is due to the oxytocin your body releases while breastfeeding or because breastfeeding moms tend to live a healthier lifestyle.

6. Reduces the risk of diabetes

Breastfeeding also lowers your chance of getting diabetes (even if you had gestational diabetes) by helping to control insulin and lower blood sugar levels. According to the research, breastfeeding for longer than five months cuts your risk by more than half.

7. Reduces the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS)

A study performed on two groups of women, one with MS and one without, discovered a correlation between breastfeeding and MS diagnosis. Women who breastfed one or more child for a total of 15 months or more were less likely to develop MS. Researchers say more research is needed to determine whether breastfeeding is directly responsible for reducing the risk of developing the disease.

8. Helps you live longer

Because breastfeeding improves mama’s overall health in so many ways, one study suggests that one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding is that it could actually help you live longer. According to the researchers, one maternal or child death is prevented for every 597 women who exclusively breastfeed for at least six months.

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Need Breastfeeding Help?

I’m truly astounded by all of the benefits of breastfeeding and Mother Nature’s generosity, but breastfeeding isn’t always easy. If you’re struggling, check out this great resource:

Breastfeeding Gets Easier (So Stick With It!) Cheat Sheet

Genevieve Howland

About the Author

Genevieve Howland is a childbirth educator and breastfeeding advocate. She is the bestselling author of The Mama Natural Week-by-Week Guide to Pregnancy and Childbirth and creator of the Mama Natural Birth Course. A mother of three, graduate of the University of Colorado, and YouTuber with over 85,000,000 views, she helps mothers and moms-to-be lead healthier and more natural lives.

31 Comments

  1. Breastfeeding was alright in the beginning. But there came a point where it wasn’t easy for me anymore. Extended breastfeeding is harder than you may think.

  2. Hey there, I’ve recently been hearing that breast milk does not have iron in it, or very little gets past through to baby. Are there things you’ve all done to provide iron to baby? Or is this information not correct?

    • This is not true. Babies are born with all the iton they need already and provided Mama takes her prenatals, baby gets all the nutrients. Around six months babies iron supply starts to diminish which is why it is important that first solids are iron rich foods. Hope this helps 🙂

  3. Really such a good source of information. Thanks for sharing this info with us. Keep sharing.

  4. Does the same benefits apply to those of us who are exclusively pumping?

  5. Excellent article. I’m doing research on puerperal fever and information like this is very helpful. It’s incredible the things women have to go through. Mothers are one of the wonders of the universe.

  6. I really do have a good read about your post. Thanks for sharing such informative article about breastfeeding. Breast milk is best for your baby, and the benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond basic nutrition. Keep sharing!

  7. Thanx alot, it is useful
    UJ

  8. I would like to comment from the perspective of a mom who can’t produce enough milk for her baby. First, let me start by saying it is devastating. You feel like less of a mom, a failure. After all, what kind of mom can’t make enough food for her baby?

    Articles like this make me so sad. I wanted so desperately to exclusively breastfeed my 11 week old. I bought your book and prepared for a natural birth, only to end up on pitocin and when that didn’t work, a c-section. I didn’t take any medications during pregnancy, except tylenol maybe twice. I discovered my first night home with my son as he screamed all night long (even though I was feeding him all night) that I had IGT (insufficient glandular tissue). It is heartbreaking to hear your baby screaming in hunger because you can’t produce enough food for him. It is also heartbreaking to read article after article about how great breastfeeding is for your baby when you have tried literally everything to make it and just can’t because of your anatomy.

    Because of this, I am forced to feed formula. I have come to terms with it now for the most part. I try to overlook the stares and mean comments about formula feeding. Would they rather me starve my baby? I do breastfeed him also, but only produce about 3 ounces total a day. I often wonder if he will receive all the benefits with such a little amount. Will he like lots of different foods? Have the immunity benefits and antibodies, and other health benefits?

    Be thankful if you can EBF, as many people physically can’t. Not only can we not feed our babies, we have to deal with it emotionally, we can’t use BF to help us lose weight and also have to spend a LOT of $$ on formula. I also worry about the ingredients in formula too. If you can EBF (which seems like everybody on this site), please be mindful of your comments to those who can’t. Most people tell me about their OVERSUPPLY when I tell them about my undersupply. This is not helpful. My own mother-in-law did this right after my baby was born. She said she made so much milk she “drown her babies in milk and had to hold a dixie cup under one side as she fed on the other.” These comments were hurtful to a new mom who was crying every time she fed her baby because there was no milk there.

    I’m learning to deal with IGT, and am extremely grateful for my happy, healthy little man! I hope this comment helps people realize the other side of the spectrum 🙂

    • I don’t know what you must be going through and your comment touched my heart and made me sad.. But I applaud you.. You’re a wonderful mom. You feed your baby however it is possible 🙂

    • You are doing a great job mama! Not everyone can breastfeed exclusively and that’s okay, it’s why formula was invented. You just keep being the awesome mom that you are and do your best to ignore the negativity.

    • You are doing a wonderful job. Keep it up. I am sure any type of breastfeeding is beneficial. I just wanted to add that I too was worried about the formula issue – in case I couldn’t produce. I go to a naturalpathic doctor for my RA and asked her about organic safe formulas. She gave me a recipe to make on my own. So I am suggesting maybe trying to find a holistic doctor in your area or research this more. Get it from a trusted source but there is another option than using formula. FYI-even if you are not BFE, still keep any receipts that you use for BF. You can still write these off on your taxes. Good Luck.

    • Thanks for sharing this, you are clearly a wonderful and loving mother. And the love you have for your child will be absolutely the most important thing for his health and wellbeing.

  9. Breastfeeding has been such a blessing to us. It has helped me loose weight and get back to my old looking self. Also such a naturally better way to up baby’s immunity. Overall even though we had our ups and dowwns I am glad I am still nursing little one and have no plans to stop soon! 🙂

  10. This is such an optimistic post! I like it a lot. I’d add that breastfeeding doesn’t have to be uncomfortable and painful, and in my experience often a tongue tie can cause an infant to struggle and cause problems during breastfeeding. This is something easily rectified with a lingual frenectomy.

  11. I wish your link to La Leche League at the bottom wasn’t broken. ?

  12. I’ve personally *never* loved breastfeeding but it’s far more convenient than having to go out and buy formula (let’s not even mention what they use for ingredients) and bottles, mixing, cleanup etc. Added bonus: when I wake up for our 1 a.m. feeding to find we have no power I just changed a diaper by lantern light then curled up in the recliner with my 11-week-old to nurse her before cuddling under a warm blanket to keep us both warm.

  13. Calorie burning! Three months postpartum with my first I was fifteen pounds UNDER my prepregnancy weight. When number 2 arrived it only took a month to return to that weight even though I had gained more weight than the first time! The female body is awesome!

    • I actually GAINED weight nursing exclusively with both my children. I lost little to no weight from labor and then gained from there. The weight did not leave til I quit nursing, 1 yr+ later. It is not universal that ppl lose weight from nursing, as I was very discouraged to discover. I just want to put this out there for other new moms who might have the same experience, because after being told from all sides that nursing would help with weight loss, I felt like there was something wrong with me when it didn’t happen and I actuallly gained. (On a normal, healthy, hungry nursing mamma diet.) I know other ppl now who have the same story, but it was surprisingly tough to not be “one of those ppl” who loses weight while nursing.

      • I also gained weight while nursing. I lost weight during both pregnancies (had a 8 pounds and a 9 pounder. both healthy boys) but gained weight while nursing. AND went down a cup size verses what I was told about going up haha I make milk like a cow and still managed to lose a cup somewhere in the process hahaha

      • Bethany, very true comment. I too, lost all pregnancy weight immediately following my delivery but gained it back in 2 months, while exclusively breastfeeding my daughter. All my friends were saying that I’ll loose the weight while BF but it wasn’t the case.

  14. I am interested in this study on it being a contraceptive. I am 15 weeks postpartum and have just concluded my second period since I finished my pp bleeding. I am exclusively breastfeeding and have been from day one. I’ve also had three different friends who exclusively breastfed and ended up with children less than a year apart because we’ve all been taught breastfeeding will keep you from having a period and/or work as a contraceptive. I think there needs to be more warnings that breastfeeding does NOT always work and I highly doubt it’s success rate is 98% as claimed. Otherwise though I am loving nursing my little boy! I wish he would take pumped milk from a bottle so I could go out with his daddy from time to time and leave him with Nana but hey, it’s kind of a nice feeling to be wanted so badly. 😉

    • These books might help you understand why you have had cycles return: http://amzn.to/1MeaBNJ and http://amzn.to/1MeaHVv

      I have the first one and not the second – I don’t know you would need both but it might have been trying to pump that caused your cycle to return so soon. Basically your body knows to suppress ovulation from the frequency and intensity of the sucking of the infant. Pumping is less intense sucking that nursing. Also, use of pacifiers or having baby sleep in a different room could have to do with it too. Of course individuals can chose to do any of these things but doing them for some will mean a quicker return of fertility. Some women can pump and not have cycles for months and some women have to strictly follow all 7 standards of ecological breastfeeding to have a delay of fertility. Hope that helps!

    • My doctor told me for breastfeeding to be used as contraception, you must be feeding at regular intervals around the clock, ie: every 3-4hrs day AND night. If your baby starts sleeping longer stretches through the night, it becomes less and less of a reliable contraceptive.

  15. I LOVE breastfeeding and it always baffles me when people choose not to, I mean not even give it a go! The benefits are overwhelming and the bonding is amazing, so convenient too, it’s right there with you when you need it. We co sleep too so even better overnight no getting up. Sadly, I notice when I’m out and breastfeeding so many other mums using Formula. Now I know that some people have no choice but I personally know quite a few people who chose to formula feed, one in particular, started off breastfeeding and then introduced formula meaning she slowly weaned to full formula but the time the baby was a few weeks old! Her excuse was its too hard! Disappointing. But I guess if people are finding it difficult, please please stick with it baca use it gets a lot easier

  16. In addition to all the awesome benefits of ingested breast milk, it was nice having a natural remedy at the ready for eliminating foreign particles from her eyes, clearing up diaper rash, and using as an awesome healing agent for minor cuts/scraps!!

    Breast milk is AMAZING!!!

  17. Breastfeeding helps a toddler reconnect & calm down – easy tantrum fix!

  18. Sharing some comments on this post from my Facebook page.

    Jessica Villa King
    I am an RN, and before my son was born I would’ve gone on and on about all the scientific health benefits of breastfeeding, but now that I have my darling 3 month old in my arms I would definitely say-BONDING!!!

    Gina Mac Gillis-Hirt
    Nothing like a healthier and faster weight loss for Mommy!! Burns a bunch of calories!! Did I mention lowering your risk of BREAST CANCER??

    Angie Schuelke
    I nursed for two years, my child is now five, and he has never had to go to the doctor for being sick. The immune boosting benefits alone are worth it.

    Jessamina Longislandgoddess
    I’m nursing my 20 month old, and love the cuddle time w/my
    on-the-go daddy’s boy!

    Jenny Sarafin
    There are so many reasons why, and first and most important would be how healthy it is for baby in so many ways. It’s nutritious, provides antibodies, no chemicals or artifical ingredients, gentle on baby’s tummy, changes to accomodate baby’s needs over time. etc, etc. I also love the bonding and the convinience of it. Baby is hungry and food is readily available. And it’s free! Can’t beat that!

  19. Never runs out or goes off, always with you… simple, quick, effective tool to help calm them/make them sleepy. Less poo. Poo smells better. The poo and spit up doesn’t stain. It keeps you lactating, which means you always have an antibacterial cleanser/ointment/tonic that can be used on anybody and any body part to soothe, heal and rejuvenate. I could go on like this all day!! I love breastfeeding!

    • Oooo!!! I really like your points here… I have noticed that Griffin’s pooh smells like yogurt, which ain’t too shabby, and his spit up doesn’t stain. More reasons to love breastfeeding!

  20. More sleep!!! No getting up and making a bottle and all that. We co-sleep as well, so all I needed to do in the middle of the night when my boys got hungry is pull up (or down) my shirt and roll over and cuddle. We would both usually go back to sleep while they were still nursing….lol. But of all the things that new parents wish for, I believe more sleep is probably #1 and breastfeeding provides it!!!


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