Nutrition Column – Breastfeeding Benefits Both Mother and Child

It has long been said that "a breast-fed baby is a well-fed baby." In fact, breastfeeding is universally endorsed by many health and scientific organizations, including the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization, as the ideal way to feed an infant.  

Decades of research have revealed that breast milk is a uniquely complex substance currently unable to be duplicated by artificial means. It is the most complete form of nutrition for infants, containing the perfect balance of nutrients essential for a baby’s optimal growth and development as well as substances necessary to protect against acute and chronic illnesses.

According to a report issued by the United States Breastfeeding Committee that summarizes current research regarding the many benefits of breastfeeding, breastfed children when compared with formula-fed children:

– are healthier, and when they do get sick, have fewer symptoms and shorter illnesses;

– score higher on cognitive and IQ tests at school age as well as on tests of visual acuity;

– have a lower incidence of sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS;

– are less likely to suffer from infectious illnesses and their symptoms, such as diarrhea, ear infections, respiratory tract infections and meningitis;

– are less likely to contract food and waterborne infections such as salmonellosis;

– have a lower risk of the two most common inflammatory bowel diseases;

– suffer less often from some forms of cancer, including Hodgkin’s disease and childhood leukemia;

– have a lower risk of juvenile onset diabetes, if they have a family history of the disease and are breastfed for at least four months;

– are significantly protected against asthma and eczema, if they are predisposed to allergic disorders and are exclusively breastfed for at least four months;

– may have a lower risk of obesity in childhood and adolescence; and

– have fewer cavities and are less likely to require braces.

Scientific evidence also has indicated that breastfeeding provides a wide range of benefits for mothers including the following.

– Women who have breastfed are less likely to develop ovarian and pre-menopausal breast cancers. The more months a woman has spent breastfeeding, the greater the beneficial effect.

– Breastfeeding reduces risk of osteoporosis.

– Breastfeeding mothers enjoy a quicker recovery after childbirth, with a reduced risk of postpartum bleeding.

– Mothers who breastfeed are more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy weight than mothers who formula feed.

– Exclusive breastfeeding may reduce the risk of anemia by delaying the return of the menstrual cycle for 20 to 30 weeks.

– Breastfeeding mothers have been reported to be more confident and less anxious than bottle-feeding mothers.

– Breastfeeding contributes to feelings of attachment between a mother and her child.

The decision whether or not to breast-feed is a personal one. And, breastfeeding works better for some mothers and babies than others. New and expectant mothers should carefully consider both the immediate and lifelong benefits breastfeeding can potentially provide for both mother and child.

For more information about the benefits of breastfeeding, contact the United States Breastfeeding Committee at

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by Pat Kendall, Ph.D., R.D., Food Science and Human Nutrition Specialist, Colorado State University, Cooperative Extension