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What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

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Benefits to the Infant:

The benefits to infants from either breastfeeding or receiving expressed breast milk are:1,2,3

  • Nutritionally balanced meals
  • Protection against common childhood illnesses and infections
  • Better survival during the first year of life, including lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
  • Less chance of developing some allergic diseases
  • Less chance of developing type 1 diabetes
  • Physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding directly from the mother's breast due to skin-to-skin contact

Indirect evidence suggests that overweight and obesity occur less often among children who were breastfed.4 In addition, research has shown a connection between breastfeeding and better cognitive development in children through school age.5,6,7 More research is needed to understand whether these cognitive effects are from the chemical contents of the human milk or from other factors, such as the increased interaction between the mother and child while nursing.

Benefits to the Mother

Mothers also benefit from breastfeeding in many ways, including:8,9,10

  • Less blood loss following childbirth and improved healing
  • Improved postpartum weight loss
  • Emotional benefits from close interaction with the infant
  • Lower likelihood of experiencing postpartum depression, which is seen more often in new mothers who do not breastfeed
  • Less chance of developing certain health conditions, such as rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and certain cancers (for example, breast cancer)
  • Physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding directly from a mother's breast due to skin-to-skin contact with her infant

Economic Benefits

In the United States, breastfeeding also results in economic savings.11,12,13

  • Families with infants who are breastfed save hundreds of dollars per year that might otherwise be spent on infant formula.
  • Improved overall health of breastfed infants could mean that fewer insurance claims are filed and fewer medical services are needed.
  • Fewer illnesses in breastfed infants also could mean that employees who are parents take fewer sick days to stay home and care for ill infants.
  • Fewer premature deaths of breastfed infants could mean a savings associated with the funeral costs and lost work days of the parents when an infant passes away prematurely.

  1. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). (2012, February 27). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk.Pediatrics, 129, e827–e841. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full.pdf+html External Web Site Policy[top]
  2. National Institute of Child Health & Human Development (NICHD). (2009, February 9). Breastfeeding. Retrieved April 26, 2012, from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/Breastfeeding/ [top]
  3. UNICEF. (n.d.). Skin-to-skin contact. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/News-and-Research/Research/Skin-to-skin-contact/ External Web Site Policy [top]
  4. Yamakawa, M., Yorifuji, T., Inoue, S., Kato, T., & Doi, H. (2013). Breastfeeding and obesity among schoolchildren: A nationwide longitudinal survey in Japan. JAMA Pediatrics, 167(10), 919–925. PMID: 23939787 [top]
  5. Quigley, M. A., Hockley, C., Carson, C., Kelly, Y., Renfrew, M. J., & Sacker, M. (2012). Breastfeeding is associated with improved child cognitive development: A population-based cohort study. Journal of Pediatrics,160(1), 25­–32. PMID: 21839469 [top]
  6. Kramer, M. S., Aboud, F., Mironova, E., Vanilovich, I., Platt, R. W., Matush, L., et al. (2008). Breastfeeding and child cognitive development: New evidence from a large randomized trial. Archives of General Psychiatry, 65, 578-584. [top]
  7. Anderson, J. W., Johnstone, B.M., & Remley, D. T. (1999). Breast-feeding and cognitive development: A meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 7, 525-535. [top]
  8. AAP. (2012, February 27). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129, e827–e841. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full.pdf+html External Web Site Policy [top]
  9. NICHD. (2009, February 9). Breastfeeding. Retrieved April 26, 2012, from http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/Breastfeeding/ [top]
  10. UNICEF. (n.d.). Skin-to-skin contact. Retrieved June 12, 2012, from http://www.unicef.org.uk/BabyFriendly/News-and-Research/Research/Skin-to-skin-contact/ External Web Site Policy [top]
  11. AAP. (2012, February 27). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics, 129, e827–e841. Retrieved April 27, 2012, from http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full.pdf+html External Web Site Policy [top]
  12. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011, January 20). The Surgeon General's call to action to support breastfeeding. Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Office of the Surgeon General. Retrieved June 13, 2012, from http://www.surgeongeneral.gov/library/calls/breastfeeding/calltoactiontosupportbreastfeeding.pdf (PDF - 904 KB)  [top]
  13. Ma, P., Brewer-Asling, M., & Magnus, J. H. (2013). A case study on the economic impact of optimal breastfeeding. Maternal and Child Health Journal, 17(1), 9–13. PMID: 22278355 [top]

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Last Updated Date: 04/14/2014
Last Reviewed Date: 12/19/2013
Vision National Institutes of Health Home BOND National Institues of Health Home Home Storz Lab: Section on Environmental Gene Regulation Home Machner Lab: Unit on Microbial Pathogenesis Home Division of Intramural Population Health Research Home Bonifacino Lab: Section on Intracellular Protein Trafficking Home Lilly Lab: Section on Gamete Development Home Lippincott-Schwartz Lab: Section on Organelle Biology