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The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Infants and Children

The Health and Developmental Advantages of Nursing

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Updated July 08, 2013

The best milk is breast milk. As mammals, our bodies are designed to create a unique source of nutrition for our young. Cats produce the perfect milk for their kittens, a cow’s milk is made up of exactly what a calf needs, and human milk is the ideal food for a human baby.

Breast milk contains a combination of protein, fats, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals that adjust with your baby as he or she grows. It is also provides your baby with immune boosting antibodies, white blood cells, and enzymes. Although infant formula is a safe and effective alternative, it can not match the balance of nutrition and protective properties found in breast milk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively until the baby is six months old, and continuing to breastfeed along with the introduction of solid foods until the baby’s first birthday. The longer you breastfeed the greater the health benefits to your baby. These advantages begin immediately and can continue throughout your child’s life.

Health Benefits

  • Breast milk, especially the early milk called colostrum, contains antibodies to help protect your baby from illness and fight off diseases.

  • Breastfeeding helps develop and strengthen your baby’s own immune system.

  • Breastfed babies have less ear infections and upper respiratory infections than formula fed babies.

  • Breast milk is easier to digest, especially for premature babies.

  • Breastfeeding helps protect babies against diarrhea, constipation and other bowel related problems.

  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).

  • Breastfed babies may be less likely to develop childhood cancer and diabetes.

  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of heart disease and high blood pressure in children.

  • Breastfeeding decreases the risk of asthma, allergies and eczema.

  • Breastfed infants are less likely to be overweight and have a lower risk of childhood obesity.

Developmental Benefits

  • Breast milk contains essential nutrients for the development of the brain, eyes and nervous system.

  • It takes more effort to breastfeed than to bottle feed encouraging the development of the mouth and jaw.

  • Breastfeeding promotes brain development and may increase the intelligence level in children due to certain types of fat found in human milk.

  • Children who were breastfed may show fewer behavioral, psychosocial and learning difficulties.

  • The closeness of breastfeeding increases the baby’s comfort and security, it also encourages a stronger emotional bond.

Breastfeeding not only provides your baby with complete nutrition, it also contributes to your baby’s health and development. The benefits of breastfeeding begin in infancy and continue throughout childhood and even into adulthood.

Sources:

Healthy Milk, Healthy Baby. (2005). National Resources Defense Council. Accessed November 21, 2011 http://www.nrdc.org/breastmilk/benefits.asp

Horta, Bernardo L., Rajiv Bahl, José Carlos Martinés, Cesar G.Victora. (2007). Evidence on the long-term effects of breastfeeding. World Health Organization. Accessed November 21, 2011

Lazaratou E., Anagnostopoulos D. C., Zelios G., Christodoulou A., Manganari E., Sini A. The Contribution of Biological and Social Factors to The Manifestation of Learning Disorders. Encephalos Journal. Accessed December 10,2011

León-Cava, Natalia. (2002). Quantifying The Benefits of Breastfeeding: A Summary of The Evidence. Pan American Health Organization. Washington, D.C. Accessed December 10, 2011

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2011). Breastfeeding. Accessed November 21, 2011 http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/why-breastfeeding-is-important

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