Breastfeeding for a Lifetime of Good Health
Breastfeeding is the natural way to feed your baby. It's also good for your baby's health and for your health, too. Cleveland Clinic supports and encourages breastfeeding, but the decision to breastfeed is up to you. The information below explains the benefits of breastfeeding so you can decide how you wish to feed your baby.
Breast milk: The best food for your baby
Here are some important facts about the benefits of breast milk:
- Breast milk provides all the food and fluid your baby needs to grow.
- Breast milk is always available. As soon as your baby is born, a hormone is released by your body that tells your breasts to produce milk. The more your baby feeds, the more milk your breasts make.
- Breast milk is convenient. It is always at the right temperature and does not require measuring or special preparation.
- Breast milk saves money. Breast milk is natural and free. Plus, you don't need to buy formula, extra bottles, or other feeding supplies for your baby.
- Breastfeeding is safe for the environment. Breast milk does not require packaging and doesn't waste paper, glass, tin, plastic, or rubber. Purchased milk substitute products do require packaging.
- Breastfeeding provides comfort to your baby. By holding your baby close to your skin, you provide warmth to your baby, as well as create a bond between you and your baby that no one else can replace.
- Breastfeeding helps your baby's brain to develop. Studies show that children who are breastfed have higher intelligence scores (by an average of seven points) than those who are fed breast milk substitutes.
- Breastfeeding helps your baby grow into a healthy adult. Studies show that people who were breastfed have fewer health problems such as:
- ulcerative colitis
- Crohn's disease
- skin problems
- reduced risk of heart attack and stroke
- Babies who are breastfed for at least six months* have fewer health problems than babies who are fed breast milk substitutes.
* It is currently recommended that breastfeeding continue for at least twelve months, and thereafter for as long as desired by you and your baby.
Breastfed babies have:
- Decreased health care costs
- Less diarrhea, constipation, and stomach problems because breast milk is easy for babies to digest
- Fewer instances of:
- ear, urinary tract, and respiratory infections
- fewer serious illnesses such as bacterial meningitis, childhood cancers and botulism because breast milk contains the mother's antibodies (disease-fighting cells), which are passed to the baby
- Fewer trips to the doctor
- Less tooth decay
- Good oral development from sucking at the breast
- A significantly decreased risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
Why breastfeeding is healthy for moms:
- Breastfeeding causes uterine contractions right after birth, leading to less bleeding
- Breastfeeding helps your uterus shrink to its normal size and burns extra calories, helping you get in shape faster
- Breastfeeding reduces your risk of ovarian cancer and pre-menopausal breast cancer
- Breastfeeding reduces your risk of developing osteoporosis
Common concerns about breastfeeding:
- Are my breasts too small to breastfeed?
Breast size does not affect your ability to breastfeed. The amount of milk your breasts make will depend on how much your baby eats, not how big your breasts are.
- Will breastfeeding hurt?
Breastfeeding should not hurt if your baby is latched onto your breast well. Your health care provider can help you learn how to hold your baby when you breastfeed for the first time. Your breasts might be tender the first few days, but this soreness should go away as you continue to breastfeed.
- Is breastfeeding hard to do?
Breastfeeding is a learned skill and takes practice, but the health benefits you are gaining for you and your baby are worth it. Help with breastfeeding is available. There are many ways for you to learn about breastfeeding. Many hospitals offer breastfeeding classes that you can attend during pregnancy. In most cases, nurses and lactation consultants are also available to give you information and support. Talking to other breastfeeding moms might be helpful and make you feel more comfortable.
- I am shy and think breastfeeding might embarrass me.
You can choose to feed your baby in private. Or, you can breastfeed in front of others without them seeing anything. You can wear shirts that pull up from the bottom, just enough for your baby to reach your breast. You can put a blanket over your shoulder or around your baby so no one can see your breast.
- Do I have to drink milk if I choose to breastfeed?
No, you do not have to drink milk to make breast milk. Other sources of calcium-rich foods include yogurt, cheese, tofu, salmon, almonds, calcium-enriched fruit juice, corn tortillas, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, and dried beans and peas. Eat four servings of calcium-rich foods every day to provide proper nutrition for you and your baby.
- What if I need to go out?
If you can take your baby with you, your baby can eat when he or she is hungry. If you need to be away from your baby, you can learn to pump or "express" your milk and store it so that someone else can feed your baby.
- How can I breastfeed when I go back to work?
When you return to work, you can learn to pump or "express" your milk and store it so that someone else can feed your milk to your baby while you're at work. For More information on Breastfeeding for working mothers, go to: www.womenshealth.gov
- Will breastfeeding take too much time?
Feeding your baby takes time, no matter which method you choose. Your choice to breastfeed is a personal one.
We hope this information explains some of the benefits of breastfeeding for you and your baby. Please feel free to discuss your concerns with your health care provider or a lactation consultant.
- La Leche League International. Breastfeeding Answers from La Leche League. Accessed 3/21/2013.
- US Department of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health. Health Topics: Breastfeeding. Accessed 3/21/2013.
- Centers for Disease Control & Prevention. Breastfeeding. Accessed 3/21/2013.