Breastfeeding Makes a Difference

For Infant

Human milk is a human infant’s first food. It contains all the nutrients that a newborn needs and is more easily digested and absorbed than any other infant food. Each mammal’s milk is specific for that mammal’s needs. (Humans are the only mammals that drink another mammal’s milk!) Human milk cannot be duplicated. It contains Human Growth Factor, which helps the body grow and develop at the proper rate. Over 100 nutrients and other factors have been identified in human milk; each one meets an important need of the infant. There are components in human milk that still have not been identified and will never be duplicated and added to human milk substitutes.

Colostrum is the perfect first food for an infant. Colostrum is a thick, yellowish fluid that begins to form in the breasts during the 16th week of pregnancy. The infant gets small amounts colostrum for the first two to three days; the amount produced increases as the infant’s stomach grows. For about two weeks, colostrum gradually mixes with mature milk before it disappears. Colostrum has a very high concentration of antibodies. It has a laxative effect, which helps clear out the first stool where bilirubin is stored; if bilirubin is not excreted quickly, it is reabsorbed and causes infant jaundice. Colostrum coats the intestine to keep bacteria and viruses from attaching and causing illness.

Less sickness and disease. Human milk protects against disease. Colostrum and mature milk contain living white cells that kill bacteria and produce antibodies. Breastfed infants have fewer colds, ear infections, and less digestive and respiratory problems, and if they do get sick, it is less severe. The protection breastfeeding offers lasts a lifetime; infants who are breastfed are healthier throughout childhood and adulthood. Heating or freezing colostrum or mature milk decreases live antibodies but not enough to reduce the benefits of breastfeeding.

Human milk helps with brain growth. Human milk contains taurine, an amino acid that is essential for brain growth. The human brain grows more during the first year than the rest of life. The head circumference increases three inches during the first year; it takes 15 years for it to grow another three inches. Studies show that children who were breastfed score higher on IQ tests and on standardized school tests. Children who are breastfed for several months read sooner and have fewer learning disabilities.

Better response to vaccines. Studies have found that some immunizations produce a better response in infants who are breastfed. Breastfed infants follow the recommended timetable for immunizations.

Human milk changes as the infant grows. Preterm milk is higher in fat and immunities than full term milk. Protein and fat content vary during each feeding, the time of day, and the age of the infant. The levels of immunity increase after six months to give added protection as the infant is exposed to more of the outside world.

Fewer allergies and colic. Formula-fed infants develop the highest percentage of allergies. The longer an infant is breastfed; the less likely allergies are to develop. The main antibody in human milk is Immunoglobulin A (IgA), which kills bacteria and coats the infant’s intestines so that foreign allergy proteins cannot enter the infant’s system. An infant will not be allergic to human milk, but occasionally some infants react to the protein from cow’s milk or to another food the mother has eaten. Some infants are allergic to many types of formulas.

Human milk is easier to digest because of the whey protein it contains. It has a lower level of most minerals including calcium, phosphorus, sodium and potassium than cow’s milk or formula. This is an advantage because there is less waste for the infant to excrete. Since human milk is almost completely digested, the stools are more watery and do not have a foul odor.

Protection against diarrhea and constipation. Exclusively breastfed infants do not normally get constipation or diarrhea. If a breastfed infant's stool is loose, has an odor, and there are other symptoms of illness, then the infant's loose stool may be diarrhea. Certain vitamin supplements may cause constipation.

Less diaper rash and skin problems. A breastfed infant’s stools are less irritating to the infant’s skin. Eczema is less common and milder in breastfed infants.

Better jaw and teeth formation. Breastfeeding uses more facial muscles and encourages proper facial development. Infants who are breastfed tend to have straighter teeth. Breast milk does not decay teeth because it does not collect around the teeth of a sleeping infant.

Less risk of obstructive airway disease in adulthood. Artificial nipples put pressure on the palate and change the shape of the mouth, putting upward pressure and decreasing the sinus cavity. This leads to sleep apnea in adulthood. An infant’s mouth was not meant to mold to the shape of a hard object. The breast molds to the shape of infant’s mouth.

Fewer speech problems. Sucking on an artificial nipple may cause the infant’s tongue to thrust forward, creating future speech problems.

Better eye coordination. The distance between the breastfed infant’s eyes and the mother’s face is ideal for newborn focus. Breastfed infants use both eyes equally because they are moved from side to side.

Less risk of obesity. A breastfed infant learns to eat to hunger and control his own intake from the start. Weight problems associated with encouraging an infant to “finish the bottle” can be avoided.

Good taste. Human milk is sweeter and tastes better than formula. Studies have shown that newborns prefer the taste and smell of their own mother’s milk. The flavor of human milk changes with the variety of foods the mother eats. This makes the transition to table foods easier for the infant. Infants feed more when their mothers eat garlic!

Emotional health. While being breastfed, the infant is held close to the mother. The infant hears the mother’s heartbeat and feels secure. When the infant’s needs are met, he can become secure and independent. Infants learn to love by attaching to one main caregiver first. They then expand their circle of attachment and learn to trust and love others.

Less risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). Studies have shown that breastfed infants are less likely to die from SIDS.

For Mother

Confidence. All of the research on human milk mentions its benefits as the perfect food. The breastfeeding mother knows that she is providing the best possible food for her infant. Seeing her infant grow just from the milk she produces makes her feel confident as a mother and empowered.

Special bonding for mother and infant. A mother develops closeness with her infant, and is in tune with the infant’s needs. The mother and infant bond, not only because of the closeness of the breastfeeding relationship, but also because the mother’s body produces special hormones while she is breastfeeding.

Human milk is always warm and ready. Human milk is always available at the right temperature (never too hot or too cold). It does not spoil and cannot be contaminated while in the breast. Since there is nothing to prepare, it will never be over diluted or too concentrated. During natural disasters, breastfeeding mothers have one less thing to worry about.

Breastfeeding saves money. Human milk is free; formula for one infant can cost more than $1,000. WIC is a supplementary program and does not provide all the formula a formula-fed infant needs; WIC mothers still have to buy some formula. Since breastfed infants are healthier, less money is spent on doctors and medications.

Breastfeeding saves time. Breastfeeding does not require time to shop for formula, prepare it, or wash bottles and accessories.

It is easier to take the infant places. There are no bottles or formula to carry, open, refrigerate, or heat. Mother does not have to worry about the infant’s food spoiling if she is out for the day. She does not have to worry about running out of formula if she cannot get to the store.

Less spitting up. Because human milk digests easily and infants swallow less air while feeding, they spit up less and make less laundry.

Mother gets back into shape faster. Milk production burns 200 - 500 calories per day.

Reduced risk of hemorrhaging. Women who breastfeed have high levels of a hormone called oxytocin in their bodies. Oxytocin lessens the flow of blood after childbirth and shrinks the uterus back to pre-pregnancy size.
Delayed menstrual period. The return of menstruation depends largely on the frequency of the feedings. Menstruation returns when the infant sleeps through the night, receives supplementary bottles, or is given a pacifier. The periods of some women return as early as six weeks, while others may not return until breastfeeding has totally stopped. Not having periods saves money and lowers blood loss, which may help anemic women. Since a woman can be fertile before the return of her menses, she should consider a birth control method if she does not wish to become pregnant.

Breastfeeding emphasizes the purpose of the breast. The breast is a mammary gland, meant to nourish a newborn. When children see a mother and infant breastfeeding, they learn about its real purpose and how to feed an infant. Women who were self-conscious about the size of their breasts often feel more accepting of their breasts after the experience of breastfeeding.

Reduced risk of breast cancer. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the less her risk of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer.

Peaceful motherly feeling. The hormones present during breastfeeding relax and calm the mother and help her feel more peaceful.

Self-esteem. A breastfeeding mother’s success raises her self-esteem. Breastfeeding is something special that only the mother can do for her infant.

Extra WIC benefits. Fully breastfeeding mothers (whose infants do not receive formula from WIC and are assumed to be exclusively breastfeeding) are eligible to receive up to a year of postpartum food benefits. This food package includes more milk, juice, and eggs, both peanut butter and beans, cheese, plus canned fish and a larger voucher for fresh fruit and vegetables. Non-breastfeeding mothers receive WIC food benefits for six months after delivery.

For the Family and Society

Safe for the environment. Breastfeeding takes nothing from the environment and there are no waste products. Formula is packed in cans that are shipped in cartons. It takes 140,000 pounds of metal to make the cans to contain the formula for 3 million formula-fed infants. No production animals, feed, or machinery is needed. Formula production is big business. It requires millions of acres for growing feed for cows or soy plants for soy formula. Milk-based formulas require large herds of animals. Machinery is used to plant and harvest crops and make the formula.

Breastfeeding does not require energy. Energy is used to produce, transport, refrigerate and heat formula.

Child spacing. Exclusive breastfeeding for six months that includes night feedings, provides child spacing with 98% effectiveness during that time.

Financial savings for families and the government. Besides the cost of formula, there is also an increase in medical costs because formula-fed infants get sick more often than breastfed infants. The Federal government is the largest purchaser of baby formula in the United States.

Less child abuse. In societies with high breastfeeding rates, there is closer mother-infant bonding and less child abuse.

Last Reviewed: 3/2/2017