There’s a reason breastmilk is referred to as “liquid gold” by healthcare providers and nutrition experts alike: It’s jam-packed with nutrients and other substances that nourish and protect growing babies. Plus, breastfeeding has positive implications for mamas, too.
Here’s everything we know about the many benefits of breastfeeding.
What Are Some Advantages To Breastfeeding Your Baby?
While we recognize that not every mama is able to breastfeed, if you do have the opportunity, there are some pretty convincing reasons to go for it.
Breastmilk Has Nutrients1
Breastmilk is the most complete form of nourishment for babies—it contains extremely high concentrations of several vital nutrients that are critical to a baby’s growth and development.
There are three distinct stages of breastmilk production: colostrum, transitional milk and mature milk.Colostrum
Colostrum, the very first milk your body produces, is often yellow or orange in color and lasts for up to five days after your baby is born. Colostrum is extremely nutrient-dense, and contains everything your baby needs in the first few days of life. It has two times as much protein and four times as much zinc as regular breastmilk. It is also lower in fat and sugar, which makes it easy for your baby to digest. (Hence the constant diapers!) The nutrients and antibodies in colostrum also support healthy immune system development and provide protection from infections. And, since the flow of colostrum is slow, it helps babies learn to suck, swallow and breathe while feeding.Transitional Milk
“Transitional milk” is a term used to describe the breastmilk your body produces as mature breastmilk gradually replaces colostrum. It begins about four days after birth and lasts about two weeks.Mature Milk
“Mature milk” describes the breastmilk that lasts from approximately 14 days after birth until you are done producing milk.
Perhaps the most miraculous thing about breastmilk is that your body will naturally adjust its composition to match your baby’s evolving nutrient needs. As your baby breastfeeds, his or her saliva signals to your body what it needs, and your body responds by adjusting its nutrient profile accordingly.2
Breastmilk Has Antibodies
With your baby’s very first sips of breastmilk, he or she is already building immunity—colostrum is filled with white blood cells that give way to antibodies, which strengthen your baby's immune system and protect him or her from infection.
As breastmilk transitions to mature milk, the immunity benefits continue. A mother’s immune system produces antibodies that protect against germs she and her baby are exposed to, and these are passed to the baby through breastmilk.
It May Reduce Disease Risk3
Research suggests that breastfed babies have stronger immune systems, fewer hospitalizations, and less illness overall. According to the Cleveland Clinic3, evidence suggests that breastfed babies have:
- Fewer colds and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and whooping cough
- Fewer ear infections—especially the type that impairs hearing
- Less diarrhea, constipation, gastroenteritis, gastroesophageal reflux and preterm necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)
- Fewer instances of bacterial meningitis
- Better vision and less retinopathy of prematurity
- Lower rates of infant mortality
- Lower rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
And the benefits don’t stop in infancy—the Cleveland Clinic also reports that children who were breastfed as babies have been shown to have:
- Fewer instances of allergies, eczema and asthma
- Fewer childhood cancers, including leukemia and lymphomas
- Lower risk of type I and II diabetes
- Fewer instances of Crohn’s disease and colitis
- Lower rates of respiratory illness
- Fewer speech and orthodontic problems
- Fewer cavities
- Less likelihood of becoming obese later in childhood
- Improved brain maturation
- Greater immunity to infection
Teenagers and adults who were breastfed are less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, heart disease, multiple sclerosis and, for women, pre- and post-menopausal breast cancer.
It May Help with Brain Development
There is a growing body of research linking breastfeeding to enhanced brain development in babies. For instance, one study revealed that toddlers and preschoolers who’d been exclusively breastfed for at least three months had 20 to 30 percent more white matter than children who hadn’t been breastfed.4 White matter connects different regions of the brain and transmits signals between them. Another study showed that teens who’d been breastfed for at least six months were more likely to get higher grades on exams.4 And research out of Brown University found that babies who had been breastfed exclusively for at least three months had enhanced development in parts of the brain associated with language, emotional function and cognition at age two compared to those who were exclusively fed formula or who received a combination of formula and breastmilk.
And the benefits seem to last: Studies have linked breastfeeding with better cognitive outcomes in older adolescents and adults. Other research suggests that people who’d been breastfed for at least a year tend to earn more money by the time they’re 30 years old.5
Some experts theorize that the long-chain fatty acid content in breastmilk may be to thank for these brain-boosting benefits.
It May Help Your Baby Sleep
Breastmilk isn’t just packed with nutrients and antibodies, it also contains sleep-promoting hormones, amino acids and nucleotides, which increase in concentration at night and may help babies establish a consistent sleep-wake cycle.5 Plus, sucking releases the sleep-inducing hormone cholecystokinin (CCK) in both mother and baby.6
It May Reduce the Risk of Behavioral Issues in Children
Recent research demonstrates that breastfeeding may have positive implications for behavior in childhood.7 In a study of 10,000 children, those who were breastfed for more than four months were 30 percent less likely to exhibit “problem behaviors” at five years old.
Breastfeeding Benefits For You
Research shows that breastfeeding isn’t just good for babies—it’s good for their mamas, too. Here’s why...
It Can Make the Postpartum Period Easier8
Moms who breastfeed have less risk of postpartum depression, a severe, and often debilitating form of depression that typically sets in in the days, weeks or months after having a baby.
Breastfeeding may also help lessen postpartum bleeding, reducing the risk of anemia, and is associated with fewer urinary tract infections. It also helps stimulate the uterus to contract and return to its normal size.
It Can Protect Against Disease
According to the Cleveland Clinic8, breastfeeding is linked to many health benefits for mothers, including lower risk of breast and ovarian cancers, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. Breastfeeding mothers are also less likely to experience endometriosis, diabetes, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, and osteoporosis with age.
It Could Boost Your Mood8
Breastfeeding produces oxytocin and prolactin, naturally soothing hormones that promote stress reduction and positive feelings. It is also associated with greater confidence and self-esteem.
Breastfeeding May Help Promote Healthy Weight
Building and maintaining a milk supply is a lot of work for your body—breastfeeding burns as many as 500 extra calories a day, making it easier to achieve a calorie deficit and shedding “baby weight.”8 Just keep in mind that most experts advise new moms to wait until breastfeeding is well established to start thinking about losing the baby weight. In the meantime, focusing on eating nutrient-rich foods and staying active is the best thing you can do for you and your baby.
It May Save You Money9
Experts estimate that breastfeeding can save families an estimated $1,200 to $1,500 in expenditures on infant formula in the first year alone. You may also save money on bottles, pumps and feeding accessories.
How Long Should Moms Breastfeed?
Research shows that the longer an infant is breastfed, the greater the benefits to both baby and mother.
Organizations like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommend that infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Beyond that, moms are encouraged to continue breastfeeding while supplementing with age-appropriate solid foods for at least one year.10
Are There Any Disadvantages to Breastfeeding?
There’s no disputing it: Breastfeeding has significant benefits for babies and mothers. But that doesn’t mean it’s easy. Here are a few hurdles you may have to overcome on your breastfeeding journey.
It May Not Come As Easily As You’d Expect
Breastfeeding can take some time to master. Your baby may need to learn to latch and you'll need to learn the best nursing positions for you, especially if you’ve had a c-section. There also may be some pain in the early days as your nipples adjust to the frequent feedings, and as you and your little one work on perfecting the latch. Be patient and rest assured that it does get easier. Nipple creams and saline solutions can work wonders for sore nipples in the meantime.
You May Face Some Logistical Challenges
If you work full time, for instance, you may have to use a breast pump throughout the work day to keep up your supply when you’re away from your baby. If you have young children who need tending to, sitting down every few hours to feed your infant may seem impossible and you may have to get creative about feeding your littlest one while on the move. Try nursing your baby while he or she is in a baby carrier, or pump while your other children nap so you can give your baby a bottle when nursing is too challenging.
There May Be Some Unexpected Expenses
While breastfeeding in and of itself is an inexpensive way to feed your baby, there are some possible expenses like a breastfeeding support pillow, a breast pump and associated parts, nursing shirts and bras, breastmilk storage containers and bottles, and breast pads to prevent leakage.
Cut costs by reaching out to friends and family members to see if you can borrow a pillow and nursing-friendly clothing and check with your insurance company to see if a breast pump and accessories are covered—many companies will cover specific pumps and parts.
Get more content like this! Read more about your hormones and breastfeeding now. Plus, did you know you need extra nutrients while breastfeeding? Shop OB/GYN-made postnatal vitamins to nourish you and your growing baby.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment and we recommend that you always consult with your healthcare provider. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians or medical practitioners, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Perelel.1 “Colostrum: What Is It, Benefits & What To Expect.” Cleveland Clinic, 21 February 2022.
2 Carroll, Patti. “You are what you eat…and so is your baby | Blogs | CDC.” CDC Blogs, 31 July 2017.