The American Academy of Pediatrics states that babies should be breastfed exclusively for the first six months of life. For the following six months, they may be given supplementary foods. Breastfeeding can then continue for as long as the mother and child wish.
Recommendations aside, there are many amazing reasons to breastfeed your baby. Breastfeeding promotes bonding between the mother and child. Breastfeeding helps to protect against infections, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity, allergies, asthma, and diabetes, and it is also linked to higher intelligence over the life of the child. Benefits to the mother include higher bone density and a lower incidence of breast cancer.
1. Protection from Illness
Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the incidence of childhood illnesses such as ear and respiratory infections and viruses. Exposure to the mother’s antibodies during breastfeeding gives a protective effect to the child. In a recent study, breastfeeding reduced the incidence of ear infection by up to 50%.
2. Fewer Allergies and Asthma
According to one study, high-risk babies exclusively breastfed for four months were shown to have fewer food allergies, asthma, and eczema than non-breastfed babies did. Another study suggests that breastfed infants may have a lower incidence of eczema later in life.
3. Less Diabetes in Mothers
Over time, mothers who breastfeed have a lower incidence of Type 2 diabetes. The longer the mothers breastfed, the greater the benefit. This study controlled for factors such as weight gain, gestational diabetes, lifestyle and behavior, as well as clinical and demographic risk factors. Lowering the risk of diabetes can also lead to better health overall.
4. Protection against SIDS
A recent study states that breastfeeding reduces the chances of death from SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) when other risk factors were controlled for, such as maternal smoking and sleep position. It is important to remember, however, that SIDS has not been fully explained.
5. Breastfeeding Protects Against Obesity
A German study claims a 50% decrease in obesity rates when children were breastfed. As the length of time a child was breastfed increased, the risk of obesity continued to decrease. Another study claims that children who were breastfed had a lower incidence of obesity even when controlling for socioeconomic factors.
6. Higher Intelligence
Studies have shown that breastfeeding results in higher IQ scores for children later in life. DHA, an Omega-3 fatty acid naturally found in breast milk, is thought to be the cause of the increase by promoting healthy brain development.
7. Better Bone Density in Mothers
Mothers who breastfed were found to have higher bone density than mothers who did not. While pregnancy causes the loss of bone density in areas subject to fractures later in life, breastfeeding mothers’ bones were better able to recover from this loss.
8. Protection Against Breast Cancer
A 2001 study found that women who breastfeed for more than two years had a 50% decrease in the rate of breast cancer. This effect is not observed for women who breastfed for shorter periods of time.
9. Breastfeeding Burns Calories
Breastfeeding burns up to 500 calories a day, leading to less weight gain among nursing mothers. A 2008 study claims that breastfeeding mothers are protected against postpartum weight gain at 6 and 18 months.
Breastfeeding leads to positive health outcomes for both mother and child. While each mother should make her own educated decision whether or not to breastfeed, the advantages of breastfeeding are encouraging. It is especially interesting to see the long-term health impacts on the mother, who may be less subject to diabetes, breast cancer, and low bone density.