Benefits of Breastfeeding

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Breastfeeding is more than a lifestyle choice — it's an important health choice. Any amount of time that you can do it will help both you and your baby. There are many benefits of breast milk for mothers, babies, and others.

Benefits for Babies, Moms, and Families

  • Breastfeeding is normal and healthy for infants and moms.

  • Breast milk has disease-fighting cells called antibodies that help protect infants from germs, illness, and even SIDS. Infant formula cannot match the exact chemical makeup of human milk, especially the cells, hormones, and antibodies that fight disease.
Breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of these health problems:
In Infants: In Moms:

Studies are still looking at the effects of breastfeeding on osteoporosis and weight loss after birth.

  • Breast milk is different from infant formula. Colostrum, the thick yellow first breast milk that you make during pregnancy and just after birth, will give your baby the best start at life. It is known as "liquid gold." It is very rich in nutrients and antibodies to protect your baby as he or she first enters the world. Although your baby only gets a small amount of colostrum at each feeding, it matches the amount his or her tiny stomach can hold. A newborn stomach is only the size of a large marble at first!

  • Your milk changes over time to meet your baby's needs. Your breast milk that begins to be made by the third to fifth day after birth has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein that is needed for a baby's growth. It will be a thinner type of milk, but just as full of all of the nutrients and antibodies for your baby.

  • For most babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula. It takes time for their stomachs to adjust to digesting the proteins in formula because they are made from cow's milk.

  • Premature babies do better when breastfed compared to premature babies who are fed formula.

Additional Resources
For more information on infant formula safety issues, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
  • When you breastfeed, there are no bottles and nipples to sterilize. Unlike human milk straight from the breast, infant formula has a chance of being contaminated.

  • Breastfeeding makes your life easier. You do not have to purchase, measure, and mix formula. There are no bottles to warm in the middle of the night!

  • Breastfeeding can save you between $1,160 and $3,915 per year, depending on the brand of formula.

  • A mother can satisfy her baby's hunger right away with breastfeeding.

  • Breastfeeding requires a mother to take some quiet relaxed time for herself and her baby, helping them bond. Physical contact is important to newborns and can help them feel more secure, warm, and comforted. Breastfeeding mothers may have increased self-confidence and feelings of closeness and bonding with their infants.

  • Breastfeeding during an emergency can save lives.

Benefits for Society

  • Breastfeeding saves on health care costs. Total medical care costs for the nation are lower for fully breastfed infants than never-breastfed infants since breastfed infants typically need fewer sick care visits, prescriptions, and hospitalizations.

  • Breastfeeding contributes to a more productive workforce. Breastfeeding mothers miss less work, as their infants are sick less often. Employer medical costs also are lower and employee productivity is higher.

  • Breastfeeding is better for our environment because there is less trash and plastic waste compared to that produced by formula cans and bottle supplies.

The U.S. Surgeon General Recommends Breastfeeding

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends that babies be fed with breast milk only for the first six months of life. This means not giving your baby any other food or drink — not even water — during this time. Drops of liquid vitamins, minerals, and medicines are, of course, fine, as advised by your baby's doctor. It is even better if you can breastfeed for your baby's first year or longer, for as long as you both wish.

Solid iron-rich foods, such as iron-fortified cereals and pureed vegetables and meats, can be started when your baby is around six months old. Before that time, a baby's stomach cannot digest them properly. Solids do not replace breastfeeding. Breast milk stays the baby's main source of nutrients during the first year. Beyond one year, breast milk can still be an important part of your child's diet.

Learn more about the HHS Blueprint for Action on Breastfeeding and policy statements in support of breastfeeding from the American Academy of Pediatrics, PDF College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (PDF, 18 Kb), and the American Academy of Family Physicians.

Additional Resources


  1. Federal resource Breast Milk — This publication contains information on breast milk. It explains why it is better than cow's milk for infants, how breast milk is produced, how to establish, maintain or increase your milk supply, and how to store breast milk.

  2. Federal resource Breast Milk Associated With Greater Mental Development in Preterm Infants, Fewer Re-hospitalizations — This news release describes a study which found that premature infants fed breast milk had greater mental development scores at 30 months than did infants who were not fed breast milk. Also, infants fed breast milk were less likely to have been re-hospitalized after their initial discharge than were the infants not fed breast milk.

  3. Federal resource Breastfeeding — This web site briefly describes the benefits of breastfeeding, what to do if you have trouble breastfeeding, and links to information from the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development about breastfeeding.

  4. Federal resource Breastfeeding and Maternal and Infant Health Outcomes in Developed Countries — This report reviews the current evidence on the effects of breastfeeding on short- and long-term infant and maternal health outcomes in developed countries. It concludes that a history of breastfeeding is associated with a reduced risk of many diseases in infants and mothers from developed countries.

  5. Federal resource Feeding Baby with Breast Milk or Formula — This brochure helps parents decide on the way to feed their baby. Breastfeeding is the best, but if it's not possible, there are helpful tips for using formula.

  6. A Well-Kept Secret- Breastfeeding's Benefits to Mothers (Copyright © LLLI) — This publication contains information on the benefits of breastfeeding for the baby and the mother. It includes information on physiologic effects and long-term benefits.

  7. Benefits of Breastfeeding (Copyright © Linkages Project) — This fact sheet briefly describes the different health benefits that breastfeeding has for mothers and babies.

  8. Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding (Copyright © Kids Health) — This publication contains information on the benefits of breastfeeding, the pros and cons of bottle-feeding, instructions on how to breastfeed or bottle-feed your baby, as well as answers to common breastfeeding questions.

  9. Can Breastfeeding Prevent Illnesses? (Copyright © LLLI) — This publication contains information on how breastfeeding can prevent some illnesses in your baby.

  10. Feeding Your Newborn (Copyright © Kids Health) — This publication contains information on breastfeeding or bottle-feeding your baby, the advantages of breastfeeding, limitations of both, and possible challenges.

  11. Got Mom... (Copyright © ACNM) — was created by the American College of Nurse-Midwives to provide breastfeeding information and resources for mothers and families. It contains information on why breast milk is best, dispels common misunderstandings about breastfeeding, and it provides a list of resources that can help women and families with breastfeeding.

  12. The Comprehensive Benefits of Breastfeeding (Copyright © ACNM) — This publication lists the beneficial effects that breastfeeding has on mothers, babies, and society.

  13. What Are the Benefits of Breastfeeding my Baby? (Copyright © LLLI) — This publication contains information on the benefits of breastfeeding, including the benefits for the baby, the mother, employers, and the environment.

  14. What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding my Toddler? (Copyright © La Leche League International) — This publication describes how breastfeeding your toddler can help their ability to mature and their understanding of discipline as well as provide protection from illness and allergies.

  15. What's in Breast Milk? (Copyright © APA) — Proteins, fats and vitamins are some of the substances that make up breast milk. This publication describes the composition of breast milk and what makes it the best source of nutrition for your baby.

  16. Why is Breastfeeding Important? (Copyright © ProMoM) — This publication uses research from several studies to outline the risks attributed to the health of children when they are not breastfed.

Federal resource = Indicates Federal Resources

Content last updated February 27, 2009

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