Breastfeeding is the biological norm.
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding explains that “there is almost nothing you can do for your child in his whole life that will affect him both emotionally and physically as profoundly as breastfeeding.” Human milk provides the specific nutrients that babies need to grow, both in size and maturity. Your milk is made to order for your baby. Research points to the significant value to infants, mothers, families and the environment from breastfeeding.
IMPORTANCE FOR BABY
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding documents the benefits of breastfeeding such as the antibodies in it to protect the baby from illness. Breastfed babies have a decreased likelihood for allergies and dental caries. They also benefit from appropriate jaw, teeth and speech development as well as overall facial development. This means that people who were artificially fed may experience more trips to doctors and dentists.1
Breastfeeding has been shown to be protective against many illnesses and conditions, including:
- Painful ear infections2
- Upper and lower respiratory ailments3
- Colds, viruses, staph, strep and e coli infections4
- Intestinal disorders6
- Type 2 diabetes 7
- Certain childhood cancers 8
One way breast feeding protects your newborn from illnesses is the immune molecules, called antibodies, that are present in human milk. Antibodies are made by your body’s immune system and are very specific molecules that help you fight each illness. When babies are born, their immune systems are very immature and they have less ability to fight illness-causing germs. Through your breast milk, you give your baby immunities to illnesses to which you are immune and also those to which you have been exposed.
Nursing also allows your baby to give germs to you so that your immune system can respond and can synthesize antibodies to help them! This means that if your baby has come in contact with something which you have not, he will pass these germs to you at the next nursing; during that feeding, your body will start to manufacture antibodies for that particular germ. By the time the next feeding arrives, your entire immune system will be working to provide immunities for you and your baby. If you are exposed to any bacteria or viruses, your body will be making antibodies against them and these will be in your milk. Human milk also contains a host of other immune molecules that also help protect your baby from germs. It’s an awesome system!
Research shows your child’s immune system will not be fully mature for many years. While it is developing, he will be protected by being breastfed. His own immune system also develops more rapidly than does baby who is fed formula.
Does this mean breastfed babies never get sick? No, they can and do. However, the illness is generally less severe and less lengthy than if the baby were not receiving his mother’s milk.
IMPORTANCE FOR MOTHER
The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding describes some of the physical benefits of breastfeeding for the mother such as reduced rates of breast cancer, uterine, cervical and ovarian cancer.9 The time saved for mother is also immense. As a breastfeeding mother, you can feed your baby even during stressful times such as when normal supplies of food and water are not available. See our multilingual resources on Infant Feeding In Emergencies.
IMPORTANCE FOR EMPLOYERS
Breastfed babies are healthier babies; thus, mothers who are employed outside the home are likely to miss fewer days of work.10
IMPORTANCE FOR THE ENVIRONMENT
Human milk is delivered without excess packaging or processing and thus contributes to the health of our planet. See our post on Contaminants.
- Leite-Cavalcanti, A.et al. 2007. Rev Salud Publica 9 (2): 194-204. Page, D.C. 2001. Funct Orthod 18(3):24-27.
- Sabirov, A. et al. 2009. Pediatr Res 66(5):565.
- Ogbaunu,I.U. et al. 2009. Thorax 64(1):62-66.
- Ivengar SR, Walker WA, 2012. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/22684347
- Muche-Borowski, C. et al. 2009. J Dtsch Dermatalog Ges 106(39):625-631.
- Dujits,L. et al. 2009. Matern Child Nutr 5(3):199-210.
- Pettit, D.J. et al. 1997. Lancet 350:166-168.
- Benner, A. et al. 2008. Minerva Pediatr 60(2):155-161.
- Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer, epidemiological study in 30 countries, 2002. Reported in Lancet 360(9328):187-195.
Danforth, K.N. et al. 2007. Cancer Causes Control 18(5):517-523.
- Murtagh-Moulton, 2011. Am J Public Health, 101(2):217-223.