The Benefits of Breastmilk

Breastmilk is the perfect food for your baby. It has just the right amount of nutrients. It also protects your baby’s stomach, intestines, and other body systems. And it helps them develop.

Mother breastfeeding infant.

Healthiest for baby

Breastmilk gives your baby many benefits compared with formula. They include:

  • Breastmilk lowers the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

  • The nutrients in breastmilk are best for your baby’s developing brain, nervous system, and eyes. Breastfed babies do better on intelligence tests when they are older.

  • Breastmilk is full of antibodies. These are things that help your baby fight infection and other diseases. Breastmilk lowers your baby’s risk for lung and ear infections.

  • Breastfeeding reduces your baby’s risk for allergies, and skin problems caused by allergies. Formula-fed babies are more likely to have cow’s milk allergies.

  • Breastfed babies have less diarrhea. They are less likely to have digestive (gastrointestinal) infections and problems.

  • Breastmilk makes it less likely that a baby born early (premature) will have serious gastrointestinal problems. Formula can actually change the healthy bacteria in a baby’s intestines. Healthy bacteria help with digestion and fighting disease.

  • Breastfed babies have fewer long-term health problems when they grow up. These problems include diabetes and obesity.

Healthiest for mom

Women who breastfeed also get health benefits. Breastfeeding:

  • Burns calories. This can help you lose pregnancy weight faster.

  • Lowers your risk for ovarian and breast cancers

  • Lower your risk of getting diabetes later in life

What does breastfeeding exclusively mean?

Breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first 6 months of life is best for your baby. This means your baby should get only breast milk. It can be expressed and fed to your baby in a bottle, as needed.

You should not give your baby water, sugar water, formula, or solids during his or her first 6 months. Except:

  • When your baby’s healthcare provider tells you to

Your baby’s provider may also tell you to give your baby vitamins, minerals, or medicines. Breastfed babies should get extra vitamin D. Your baby’s provider will tell you about the type and amount of vitamin D you should give your baby.

Risks of not breastfeeding exclusively

You know about many of the benefits of breastfeeding. But you might not know why it is important to breastfeed exclusively for at least 6 months.

Your baby gets the best protection against health problems when he or she gets only breastmilk. Breastfeeding some of the time is good. But breastfeeding all of the time is best.

Giving your baby formula or other liquids may cause you to:

  • Have more problems breastfeeding

  • Produce less milk

  • Be less confident in breastfeeding

  • Breastfeed less often

  • Stop breastfeeding before your baby is at least 6 months old                                                                                                                                      

Who should not breastfeed exclusively

Breastfeeding exclusively is almost always recommended. But your healthcare provider may have reasons to recommend giving your baby formula or other liquids. They include:

  • Your baby has certain health problems. There are situations where you may need to add formula or other liquids, often only for a short time. This may be the case if your baby has low blood sugar (hypoglycemia), loss of body fluids (dehydration), or high levels of bilirubin.

  • You have certain health problems. Some infections can be passed from your skin to your baby’s skin or through your breastmilk. So women with HIV, AIDS, chickenpox (varicella), or TB (tuberculosis) should not breastfeed. Also, women taking certain medicines should not breastfeed. And women who use drugs or alcohol should not breastfeed.


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