This applies whether they nurse their babies directly or give breast milk in a bottle. In most cases, as long as the breasts are producing milk and babies receive it (by a bottle or in other ways), the benefits are the same.
1 The first benefit babies receive is the bonding experience they get with their moms. Truly this is a benefit to moms as well, but it seems especially necessary for babies and for their brains. The hormones released during bonding help with brain development. Early bonding as a baby is important for the child to become independent later in life. Never be afraid to bond with your baby. Have you ever been told not to pick up a crying baby because the baby will get too attached and never learn to be alone? Well, the exact opposite is true.
Breastfeeding uses all five of the baby’s senses:
So, this experience is needed to develop all of these senses. It is also extremely comforting for babies.
2 Breast milk contains proteins from mom’s immune (defence) system. These protect the baby against every germ that mom encounters. This might be one of the greatest benefits of breastfeeding, and there is no way to create these proteins artificially. The immune system is amazing, but does not work very well during infancy. Through nature’s design, babies receive immune protection - all they have to do is eat!
3 Breast milk is very good for a baby’s tummy. It is exactly what their digestive system needs to work perfectly. Breast milk coats the gut to protect it from bacteria, and helps it to grow and mature. Breast milk also helps heal the gut if something does happen to it. Babies receive good bacteria that stay in the bowel. These bacteria are needed to digest milk and protect against bad bugs.
4 Breast milk itself fights bacteria and other germs that babies encounter. This lowers the chances of every kind of infection. If babies swallow a bad germ (from their hands, or a toy, or anything else they might put in their mouth), the germ must get past breast milk first. The parts of milk that do the fighting are not digested. They stay on the surface of the gut and offer protection all the time.
The combination of the immune system-bolstering and germ-fighting parts of breast milk results in much lower chances of illness in breastfed babies. Such illnesses include ear infections, diarrhea, lung and bladder infections, as well as anything bad that mom has been exposed to like the common cold.
5 Breast milk changes according to the needs of the baby. Different amounts of fat, protein, water, and sugar are in milk depending on the time of day, how much the baby ate previously, how long it has been since the last feed, and the baby’s age. There is really nothing else like this in nature – it is incredible how breast milk adapts. It is another aspect of breast milk that cannot be created artificially. Breast milk is custom-made for each meal.
Formula is the same every time.
6 Breastfeeding protects babies and children even after breastfeeding has stopped. Children breastfed as infants are less likely to get sick. As well, the longer babies are breastfed, the less likely they are to be obese, have cancer, heart disease or allergies, and develop an irritable bowel or diabetes in the future. This breastfeeding benefit does last forever.
7 Human breast milk is so perfect for human babies that it encourages the best possible brain development. There is strong evidence that children who are breastfed score higher on IQ tests. Breast milk does not make babies extra smart, it just makes them normal. Missing out on breast milk may mean a baby does not reach full potential in the area of brain development.
8 Breastfeeding seems to improve sight and hearing. Breastfed babies have better eyesight! They also develop their hearing ability faster than babies who do not get breast milk. Breast milk has nutrients that every cell in the body needs to develop properly, so it is no wonder that it seems to help so many different areas of a baby’s development.
9 A connection exists between receiving breast milk and having fewer behaviour concerns in the child. Babies who are breastfed for four months or longer are less likely to have behaviour problems at age five. This comes back to brain development. Breast milk has what the brain needs to develop properly, and this includes behaviour.
10 Babies have less stress and pain. Ever seen a baby who has had his fill of breast milk? ‘Milk-drunk’ is one term that describes it pretty accurately. Babies are anything but stressed! Breast milk has anti-stress and anti-pain substances. If a baby must go through something painful, breastfeeding will help him or her feel less pain and stress.
1 Mothers that breastfeed recover more quickly from delivery. This is partly due to hormones released during breastfeeding. These hormones help the uterus to contract and return to normal shape and size.
2 Mothers feel less stress. Motherhood can be stressful, so it makes sense that a natural defence against stress exists. Hormones that are released in the mother as she breastfeeds reduce stress and help promote bonding. Mothers are even less likely to neglect or abuse their baby if they are breastfeeding.
3 Mothers lose weight more efficiently after delivery. This one is highly popular with new moms who want to shed extra pounds! Since the mother’s body uses lots of calories to create breast milk, nursing moms lose weight faster than if they were not breastfeeding.
4 Exclusive breastfeeding may also delay the return of menstruation for at least a little while. This may also reduce the chances of getting pregnant. (To find out more about breastfeeding and birth control, talk to your health care provider.)
5 Breastfeeding also reduces the mother’s risk of cancer of the breasts and ovaries, obesity, and heart disease. Breasts are made to produce milk and the breasts are healthier for it. Amazingly, so is the rest of the body.
Huge economic benefits can come from breastfeeding, both for families and at a national level. Formula is very expensive. It is estimated that breastfeeding saves a family about $1,000 per year related to the cost of formula. We can also consider how much money is saved by the reduced chance of sickness, which results in less use of hospitals and health care services. When you combine the potential savings from formula and health care, calculations can be done to see how much money we would save as a country. These calculations have been done for America: if 80 to 90 per cent of American women breastfed for six months, the savings would be about 13 billion dollars per year. It can be assumed that the savings in Canada would be similar (after adjusting for population size and currency). In other words, if 80 to 90 per cent of Canadian women breastfed for six months, our country would save about 1.5 billion dollars a year. That is a huge amount of money! Breastfeeding for more than six months would save even more. Want to balance the national budget? Let’s work towards better supports for moms and babies, and make it easier for them to breastfeed for as long as possible!