Breastfeeding Benefits for Baby

By Krista Gray, IBCLC. Last updated July 28, 2017.

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Breastfeeding provides many benefits for your baby.  Here’s 17 great reasons why breastfeeding your baby gives the best start in life.

  1. Increased gastrointestinal health
    Breast milk provides the perfect coating for a baby’s immature intestinal tract while he grows and develops and prepares for complementary foods later in the first year of life.  His gut is quickly colonized with either good or harmful bacteria and a breastfed baby’s gut is colonized differently than a formula-fed baby’s.Breast milk helps to promote a good digestive and immune system, while controlling pH and inhibiting the growth of harmful bacteria (such as candida and E. coli).  Breastfeeding also helps protect baby from such things as Celiac Disease and Inflammatory Bowel Disease.
  2. Increased IQ
    Exclusive or early introduction of formula-feeding reduces a child’s total IQ as well as verbal IQ and performance IQ.  In preterm babies, formula-feeding means an additional 8.3 point deficit in IQ. 1
  3. Increases bond with mother
    Breastfeeding allows for the bond between mother and baby to thrive.  Babies are held and cuddled for every feeding and moms are able to look into their babies eyes and dote on them. Warm cuddles at every meal by his favorite person in the world help provide safety and security for a new baby.
  4. Increased immunities
    Breastfed babies are sick less frequently and less severely.  Breast milk is a living substance with antibodies, living cells, enzymes, and hormones that protect your baby from infections and diseases he comes into contact with everyday.  Even more exciting is the fact that breastfeeding now helps protect your baby’s body from infections and diseases later in life too.
  5. Decreased rates of diabetes
    Both Type I and II diabetes rates are reduced by breastfeeding.  And though moms with diabetes are less likely to breastfeed, this is the very thing that would provide the greatest protection to her baby.
  6. Decreased infant mortality and SIDS
    Breastfed babies have lower infant mortality rates, and not just in the third world.  Breast milk is the great equalizer between rich and poor.  Breastfed babies thrive on this perfect food and are less likely to be sick, less likely to have life-threatening illnesses if they are sick, and less likely to die of SIDS.
  7. Decreased ear infections
    Breastfeeding is protective against otitis media (ear infections).  In fact, research shows that formula-fed babies have a 75% increase in incidences of otitis media! 2
  8. Decreased asthma
    Asthma rates in breastfed babies of four months or more are lower than babies who receive formula before two months of age.  Breastfeeding is statistically significant in protecting a child against asthma! 3
  9. Decreased allergies and eczema
    Formula-fed babies have a significantly higher rate of allergies and eczema. 4  Allergies are an immune system response to a foreign substance.  The body reacts to something – an ingredient in food for example – and fights it.Thus, when the body comes into contact with this “allergen” it reacts with such responses as coughing, a rash, gastrointestinal problems, etc.  The earlier formula is introduced, the greater the chances of developing allergies.  Families with a history of allergies should exclusively breastfeed for at least six months and wait to introduce common allergens such as soy, wheat, dairy, peanuts and other tree nuts, eggs, and fish.  When these are eventually introduced, giving them alongside breastfeeding is ideal.
  10. Decrease in childhood cancers
    Lymphoblastic leukemia, Wilm’s tumor, neuroblastoma, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma have all been linked to formula-feeding.  A child’s health, in general, is better through breastfeeding, and childhood cancers, in particular, are also reduced.  5
  11. Decreased chance for obesity, for life
    Obesity is a serious and growing disease in the western world.  Breast milk helps to program a baby’s body for a normal metabolism and helps to ensure the baby does not overeat (something which is easy to do with bottle-feeding).  The affects of how a baby is fed impacts him throughout life.  Breastfeeding is the best start to ensure a lifetime of healthy weight.
  12. Decreased rates of diarrhea and vomiting
    Breast milk coats the baby’s gut with healthy bacteria that protect it from diarrhea and vomiting.  And, if a breastfed baby does get sick, breast milk not only imparts immunities to help his body fight infection, it also provides liquids to fight against dehydration.
  13. Decreased rates of respiratory illness
    Babies who are given formula or solids before six months of age have a 6-times increase in pneumonia. 6
  14. Decreased risk of developing Multiple Sclerosis
    The strongest link to MS is a person’s diet, especially in essential fatty acids.  Breast milk has the perfect makeup of essential fatty acids for humans and cannot be replicated in cow’s milk formula (or any other formula).  Breast milk encourages the development of normal myelin; formula not only cannot encourage the healthy development of this, it actually destabilizes its development.
  15. Decreased dental anomalies
    Breastfeeding promotes sucking skills that help develop a proper jaw and mouth structure.  Because the nipple teat extends to the back of the mouth, milk does not pool up around the teeth.  Additionally, breast milk sugar is lactose (not sucrose – the main sugar associated with tooth decay).
  16. Decreases jaundice risk
    Exclusive, on-demand breastfeeding helps a baby to pass stools quickly and avoid or pass through jaundice more quickly than formula-feeding.
  17. Decreased healthcare costs, for life
    All of these factors contribute to a healthier baby.  And not just during the time of breastfeeding, but throughout his entire life.  Some have estimated an average cost savings of $1,000 per year over the course of a person’s life for exclusive breastfeeding for six months with complementary foods introduced alongside breastfeeding for the first year.

Show 6 footnotes

  1. Lucas A, Morley R, Cole TJ, Lister G, Leeson-Payne C. (1992) Breast milk and subsequent intelligence quotient in children born preterm Lancet 339(8788):261-4
  2. Dewey KG, Heinig MJ, Nommsen-Rivers LA. (1995) Differences in morbidity between breast-fed and formula-fed infants. Journal of Pediatrics 126(5 Pt 1):696-702
  3. Guilbert GW, Stern DA, Morgan WJ, et al. (2007) Effect of Breastfeeding on lung function in childhood and modulation by maternal asthma and atopy American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine 176:843-48
  4. Friedman NJ, Zeiger RS. (2005) The role of breast-feeding in the development of allergies and asthma Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology 115(6):1238-48
  5. Ortega-Garcia JA, Ferris-Tortajada J, Torres-Cantero AM, et al. (2008) Full breastfeeding and paediatric cancer Journal of Paediatrics and Child Health 44(1-2):10-13
  6. Chantry CJ, Howard CR, Auinger P. (2006) Full breastfeeding duration and associated decrease in respiratory tract infection in US children Pediatrics 117(2):425-32