The Benefits of Breastfeeding

by Allison Bush Editor

While breastfeeding might require some effort, especially at first, its physical (and emotional) benefits are worth it.

Early breast milk is liquid gold

Known as "liquid gold," colostrum is the thick yellow first breast milk that you make during pregnancy and just after birth. This milk is very rich in nutrients and antibodies to protect your infant. And although your baby gets only a small amount of colostrum at each feeding, it’s an amount suitable for his or her tiny stomach.

Your breast milk changes as your baby grows

Soon after birth, the colostrum changes into what is called mature milk. This mature breast milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein to help your baby continue to grow. It is a thinner type of milk than colostrum, but it provides all of the nutrients and antibodies your baby needs at that point.

Breast milk is easier for babies to digest

For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula. The proteins in formula are made from cow’s milk and it takes time for babies’ stomachs to adjust to digesting them.

Breast milk fights disease

The cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk protect babies from illness. This protection is unique and formula cannot match the chemical makeup of human breast milk. Among formula-fed babies, ear infections and diarrhea are more common.

Research shows that breastfeeding can also reduce the risk of Type 1 diabetes, childhood leukemia, and atopic dermatitis in babies. Breastfeeding has also been shown to lower the risk of SIDS.

Breastfeeding can save money

Formula and feeding supplies can cost well over $1,500 each year, depending on how much your baby eats. Breastfed babies are also sick less often, which can lower health care costs.

Breastfeeding can strengthen the bond between mother and child

Physical contact is important to newborns. It can help them feel more secure, warm, and comforted. Mothers can benefit from this closeness, as well. Breastfeeding requires a mother to take some quiet time to bond and the skin-to-skin contact can boost the mother’s oxytocin levels (oxytocin is a hormone that helps milk flow and can calm the mother).

Allison Bush
Meet Our Writer
Allison Bush

Allison Bush is a former HealthCentral editor who covered a wide range of health topics.