The benefits of breastfeeding

May 12, 2011 By Patricia Alfieri, R.N.

Over the years, an increasing amount of research has shown the benefits of breastfeeding for newborns. But what you might not know is that the positive effects can last well beyond the baby years.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends mothers breastfeed their babies for at least the first year of a child's life. In the first six months, AAP says, the baby should be nourished exclusively by breast milk. Other health organizations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, American Medical Association and World Health Organization, also recommend exclusive breastfeeding for newborns.

Why is breast milk good for babies?
Breast milk is the best nutrition source for newborns, with proteins that are easily digested and calcium and iron that are more easily absorbed. Breast milk also contains antibodies that help babies and children fight disease. Colostrum, the “first milk” secreted by the breasts after birth, is particularly rich in antibodies and other beneficial substances.

Studies have shown that breastfed babies may be less likely to have a number of conditions, including:
• Diarrhea, constipation and gas
• Ear, urinary or respiratory infections
• Asthma and allergies
• Diabetes
• Obesity
• Childhood cancers

The more breastmilk a baby gets, the greater the benefits, and these don't stop after a child has grown. Some studies have shown that adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to have a heart attack or stroke.

Breastfeeding moms also obtain benefits. Because producing breast milk burns calories, new mothers who breastfeed return to pre-pregnancy weight sooner. Research also shows breastfeeding mothers are less likely to have type 2 diabetes, breast or ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.

Beyond the health benefits, breastfeeding can be less costly than purchasing formula. And, of course, there's the bonding between mothers and their newborns that occurs during breastfeeding.

While breastfeeding can be a wonderful experience for mom and baby, it sometimes takes a little practice. Help is available! Some hospitals have board-certified lactation consultants, who specialize in the clinical management of breastfeeding and can provide education and coaching. Your doctor, nurse or midwife might also be able to help, and there are good resources online and in print.

Patricia Alfieri, R.N., is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at The Hospital of Central Connecticut. For information about breastfeeding, call the hospital's Breastfeeding Support Center, 1.866.624.BFSC (1.866.624.2372).