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Health Benefits of Breastfeeding

written by: Diana Cooper • edited by: Lisa Lambson • updated: 9/13/2010

Breast milk is nature's perfect food. It provides all the nutrients your baby needs, improves your baby's immune system, and lowers their risk of developing infections and allergies. Learn other health benefits of breastfeeding, for both mom and baby.

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    Health Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby

    Breastfeeding The benefits that breastfeeding provides to newborns and infants are generally immunological, nutritional, and psychosocial.

    Immunological advantages include varying degrees of protection from respiratory, gastrointestinal, and ear infections, meningitis, sepsis, and allergies.

    Colostrum and breast milk have antiviral, antibacterial, and antigenic-inhibiting properties. Babies who exclusively breastfeed have fewer occurrences of infections, and if they do occur, the infections are usually less severe.

    The earlier breastfeeding is started, the better. Colostrum has a higher amount of secretory IgA (an immune factor) compared to breast milk. Secretory IgA forms a protective barrier in the nose, throat, and intestines, guarding against invading germs. Secretory IgA has been shown to be active (in vitro) against E-coli, salmonella, shigella, polio, and rotavirus. Breastfeeding may also prevent inflammatory bowel diseases, such as Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis, later in life.

    The benefits of breastfeeding are best achieved if you nurse the first six months. Your baby's likelihood of developing infections, food allergies, respiratory allergies, and asthma are greatly reduced.

    In addition to breast milk's immunologic properties, it provides every nutrient your baby needs to grow healthy and strong. Babies who breastfeed appear to have a lower risk of childhood obesity.

    Premature babies benefit from breastfeeding. Preemies given breast milk have been shown to have fewer serious blood infections and were less likely to develop high blood pressure.

    Breastfeeding is also believed to be linked to higher IQs and lower risks of developing childhood leukemia, type 1 diabetes, and SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).

    The psychosocial benefits are primarily those associated with attachment. It provides the opportunity for mom and baby skin contact. Breastfeeding communicates warmth, closeness, and comfort.

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    Health Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom

    Producing breast milk burns calories and this can help in weight loss, especially during the first year.

    Breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin, a hormone that helps contract the uterus, reducing postpartum bleeding and bringing the uterus back to its original size before pregnancy.

    Breastfeeding can reduce your risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer and is also believed to protect against osteoporosis.

    Storing Breast Milk Safely

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    Photo Credit

    Image courtesy of the United States Department of Agriculture

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    Disclaimer

    Please read this disclaimer regarding the information contained within this article.