Understanding the Benefits of Breastfeeding

The decision about whether to breastfeed or not is an important one. It’s also an individual one. No one – not a doctor, not family, not friends, not a lactation consultant – can make that decision for you. You need to decide if breastfeeding is right for you and for your baby. Part of that process involves understanding what the benefits of breastfeeding are, and deciding on whether or not you’re willing or able to breastfeed.

Here are some basic ways that breastfeeding benefits your baby:

  • In the early days of your baby’s life, breast milk can be very helpful. That early breast milk, known as “colostrum,” is very high in both antibodies and in nutrients. These are designed to help your baby stay protected in the early days while she’s still adjusting to life outside the womb, and while her immune system is rapidly starting to do what it needs to do.
  • Breast milk is balanced for your baby. After those first few days of colostrum, your mature milk is the ideal food for your baby. It has the nutrients your baby needs, and in the right proportions. It has the right amount of protein, fat, water, and carbohydrates to give your baby the fuel that he needs to grow.
  • Breast milk is easier to digest than formula. Your baby is going to have an easier time of it adjusting to breast milk than she will formula. It takes time for your baby’s stomach to get used to digesting cow’s milk, and so breastfeeding can be gentler on her stomach. Breastfed babies tend to have fewer incidents of diarrhea, as well.
  • Breast milk may help protect from certain illnesses. The antibodies in breast milk help to protect your baby from illnesses, including things like ear infections. There is also some evidence to suggest that breastfeeding may help reduce the risk of asthma, obesity, diabetes, and even childhood leukemia.

The good news is that, even if you decide that you cannot (or if you are unable to) breastfeed, your baby should be able to grow and develop normally. And, if you’re having trouble breastfeeding, there are organizations and health providers that are more than willing to help.