Breastfeeding is the biological norm. The benefits for mother and baby are well recognised by scientific literature
For the baby breastfeeding provides:
- A nutritionally complete food that supports a normal growth trajectory
- A living fluid, which supplies the infant with important immunological, anti-infective and anti-inflammatory properties for protection against disease and infections. These properties include: (1, 2)
- Promotion of normal gut flora, which protects against gastroenteritis and necrotising entercolitis
- Protection against urinary tract, respiratory tract and ear infections
- Optimum cognitive and brain development. On average, infants that are not breastfed have a lower IQ (3)
- Reduced incidence of SIDS with any breastfeeding; compared to exclusively breastmilk substitute feeding (4)
- Protection against asthma/allergy (5, 6)
- Protection against risks of childhood cancers (2)
- Reduced chronic illness later in life (eg: obesity, diabetes, heart disease, lower total cholesterol) (7)
- Hormonal stimulation from the skin-to-skin touch resulting in effects such as reduced infant stress levels (8)
For the mother, breastfeeding completes the female reproductive cycle ensuring many positive effects for maternal health including: (9)
- Hormonal changes:
- Contraction of the uterus aiding recovery from childbirth (10)
- Suppression of fertility (5)
- Conservation of blood loss (10,11)
- Reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancer (9)
- Can have an anti- stress effect (8)
- Weight loss:
- Breastfeeding is associated with greater postpartum weight loss (12,13)
- There are lower obesity rates in breastfeeding women (14)
- Accelerated bone mineralisation post breastfeeding resulting in reduced incidence of osteoporosis in later life (15,16)
- Lower blood pressure (17)
- Lower incidence of postpartum depression (2)
- Increased sleep duration compared to women who used breastmilk substitute supplementation at night (18)
- Improved cholesterol clearance and glucose control resulting in reduced incidence of heart disease and diabetes (both type 1 and type 2) post breastfeeding (12,19)
- Changes observed in breast appearance following childbirth are due to pregnancy rather than lactation (20)
- Self satisfaction and empowerment:
- Motherhood increases IQ and problem solving skills; rat studies show a further advantage with lactation (21)
- High self esteem because of a sense of achievement in attaining parenting goals.
- Production of breastmilk is economical, thus cheaper than breastmilk substitutes. It also has a positive global impact on the economy and environment (22)
1. Kramer MS, Kakuma R. Optimal duration of exclusive breastfeeding. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2002 (1):CD003517.
2. Ip S, Chung M, Raman G, Trikalinos TA, Lau J. A summary of the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality’s evidence report on breastfeeding in developed countries. Breastfeed Med. 2009 Oct;4 Suppl 1:S17-30.
3. Kramer MS, Aboud F, Mironova E, Vanilovich I, Platt RW, Matush L, et al. Breastfeeding and Child Cognitive Development: New Evidence From a Large Randomized Trial. Arch Gen Psychiatry. 2008 May 1, 2008;65(5):578-584.
4. Vennemann MM, Bajanowski T, Brinkmann B, Jorch G, Yucesan K, Sauerland C, et al. Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome? Pediatrics. 2009 Mar;123(3):e406-10.
5. Kramer MS, Kakuma R. Maternal dietary antigen avoidance during pregnancy or lactation, or both, for preventing or treating atopic disease in the child. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2006;3:CD000133.
6. Oddy WH. The long-term effects of breastfeeding on asthma and atopic disease. Adv Exp Med Biol. 2009;639:237-51.
7. Horta B, Bahl R, Martines J, Victora C. Evidence on the long term effects of breastfeeding: systematic reviews and meta-analyses [Internet]. Geneva: WHO Press; 2007 [cited 2011 Jul 15]. Available from: http://www.who.int/child_adolescent_health/documents/9241595230/en/index.html
8. Uvnas-Moberg K. Oxytocin linked antistress effects–the relaxation and growth response. Acta Physiol Scand Suppl. 1997;640:38-42.
9. Labbok MH. Effects of breastfeeding on the mother. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2001 Feb;48(1):143-58.
10. Chua S, Arulkumaran S, Lim I, Selamat N, Ratnam SS. Influence of breastfeeding and nipple stimulation on postpartum uterine activity. Br J Obstet Gynaecol. 1994 Sep;101(9):8045.
11. Kennedy KI, Labbok MH, Van Look PF. Lactational amenorrhea method for family planning. Int J Gynaecol Obstet. 1996 Jul;54(1):55-7.
12. Stuebe A. The risks of not breastfeeding for mothers and infants. Rev Obstet Gynecol. 2009 Fall;2(4):222-31.
13. Baker JL, Gamborg M, Heitmann BL, Lissner L, Sorensen TIA, Rasmussen KM. Breastfeeding reduces postpartum weight retention. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 December 1, 2008;88(6):1543-1551.
14. Donath SM, Amir LH. Does maternal obesity adversely affect breastfeeding initiation and duration? J Paediatr Child Health. 2000 Oct;36(5):482-6.
15. Sowers M, Randolph J, Shapiro B, Jannausch M. A prospective study of bone density and pregnancy after an extended period of lactation with bone loss. Obstet Gynecol. 1995 Feb;85(2):285-9.
16. Carneiro RM, Prebehalla L, Tedesco MB, Sereika SM, Hugo M, Hollis BW, et al. Lactation and bone turnover: a conundrum of marked bone loss in the setting of coupled bone turnover. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2010 Apr;95(4):1767-76.
17. Jonas W, Nissen E, Ransjo-Arvidson AB, Wiklund I, Henriksson P, Uvnas-Moberg K. Short- and long-term decrease of blood pressure in women during breastfeeding. Breastfeed Med. 2008 Jun;3(2):103-9.
18. Doan T, Gardiner A, Gay CL, Lee KA. Breast-feeding increases sleep duration of new parents. J Perinat Neonatal Nurs. 2007 Jul-Sep;21(3):200-6.
19. Jensen RG, Ferris AM, Lammi-Keefe CJ. Cholesterol levels and the breast-feeding mom. JAMA. 1989 Oct 20;262(15):2092-3.
20. Rinker B, Veneracion M, Walsh CP. The Effect of Breastfeeding on Breast Aesthetics. Aesthetic Surgery Journal. 2008;28(5):534-537.
21. Kinsley CH, Lambert KG. The maternal brain. Sci Am. 2006 Jan;294(1):72-9.
22. Bartick M, Reinhold A. The burden of suboptimal breastfeeding in the United States: a pediatric cost analysis. Pediatrics. 2010 May;125(5):e1048-56.