The Amazing Benefits of Breastfeeding Your Baby

Each year, World Breastfeeding Week is celebrated during the first week of August. This year Door County Medical Center is raising awareness around some of the amazing benefits breastfeeding provides not only to babies and mothers, but also brings to our local community and to communities across the country and world.

The remarkable qualities of human milk

Mother Breastfeeding BabyHuman milk is considered the “gold standard of nourishment for human infants in the first months of life.” From an evolutionary standpoint, we can view breast milk as a species-specific food designed by nature to provide an infant with the exact bioactive compounds and micro/macronutrients needed for optimal growth and development. 

The qualities of breast milk are indeed remarkable. Its composition is dynamic—meaning it varies throughout the day and throughout the first years of a child’s life, providing those nutrients that are required in the moment or at a particular stage of development. For example, in the first few days of a baby’s life, the mother produces colostrum, a sticky, clear or yellowish substance that immediately supports the newborn’s immune system and gut health, as well as providing the proteins, antioxidants and other important nutrients that the little one needs. Colostrum also helps newborns adjust to the outside world by regulating their metabolism, blood sugar, body temperature, and lung and vascular systems. 

Human breast milk also protects a developing child by providing it with antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory compounds, as well as bioactive compounds like “enzymes, hormones, growth factors, lactoferrin, cytokines, immunological agents, and other immunomodulating molecules,” all of which stimulate the development of the immune system. Additionally, according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), “breast milk contains prebiotic compounds, [which stimulate] the growth or activity of a bacterial species present in the intestinal bacterial flora, as well as its own microbiota, both supplying the initial gut colonizers and supporting the microbiota development in the infant gut.”

The nutritional benefits of human milk on the long-term health of the infant

As indicated above, human milk is an essential component in the early development of a healthy immune system. But it also plays a crucial role in numerous other ways. For example, because of its role in creating a healthy immune system, human milk also reduces the likelihood of the infant developing:

  • Allergic diseases—like allergic rhinitis (hay fever) and atopic dermatitis (eczema). The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months of the infant's life, citing it as “the most important preventive measure for allergic disease development in high-risk patients.”

  • Asthma—A 2001 study, supported by recent analysis, “revealed an association between breastfeeding and a reduced prevalence of asthma in children.”

  • Respiratory, ear and gastrointestinal infections—Breast milk contains antibodies that help fight infection, and studies show that “breastfeeding can be protective against multiple respiratory and gastrointestinal acute illnesses in some children up to at least 6 months of age.” Exclusive breastfeeding can even reduce the likelihood of developing ear infections after breastfeeding has stopped.

  • Type 1 diabetes—An analysis of multiple studies suggests, “breastfeeding more than 3 months, and exclusive breastfeeding for more than 2 weeks, are associated with an approximately 15–30% lower risk of type 1 diabetes.”

Parents Holding InfantIn addition to reducing the likelihood of developing a number of immune-related diseases, breast milk has been shown to positively impact brain development and cognitive performance. According to the WHO, children and adolescents who were breastfed as babies, “perform better on intelligence tests and have higher school attendance [rates].”

Breastfeeding is good for Mom, too

Breastfeeding doesn’t only provide long term benefits to the child, but also to the mother. Among the numerous benefits that breastfeeding provides to the mother, breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk for developing:

  • High blood pressureAccording to studies published by the American Journal of Hypertension, “women who breastfeed more children, and for longer periods of time, are less likely to suffer from hypertension after they reach menopause.”

  • Type 2 diabetes—The NIH points to research that concludes, “Breastfeeding for longer than 2 months lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes by almost one half…breastfeeding beyond 5 months lowered the risk by more than one half.”

  • Cancer—Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk a woman will develop both breast and ovarian cancer later in life. “One reason [for this decreased risk] may be that when a woman is breastfeeding,” the CDC reports, “she experiences hormonal changes that may delay the return of her menstrual periods. This reduces her lifetime exposure to hormones such as estrogen, which are linked to an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers.”

Additionally, producing breast milk burns an additional 500 calories a day, with recent research showing that “lactating women have an earlier return to prepregnancy weight.”

Spread the word! Breastfeeding is vitally important to your community and communities around the world!

The importance of raising breastfeeding awareness and education not just locally, but worldwide, cannot be underestimated. Breastfeeding is an integral part of healthy communities and societies globally, and not supporting it as a nutritional practice results in severe long term consequences for children, mothers and communities across the world. According to the WHO:

  • Only 44% of infants 0–6 months old are exclusively breastfed

  • Undernutrition is associated with 45% of child deaths

  • Globally in 2020, 149 million children under 5 were estimated to be stunted (too short for age), 45 million were estimated to be wasted (too thin for height), and 38.9 million were overweight or obese

  • Over 820,000 children's lives could be saved every year among children under 5 years, if all children 0–23 months were optimally breastfed. 

Baby Doctor VisitBeyond those startling statistics, a lack of community support for breastfeeding negatively impacts the economies of those communities—or, conversely, breastfeeding has been shown to provide positive economic benefits to communities that support it. For example, per studies cited by the NIH, “breastfeeding provides significant social and economic benefits to the [United States], including reduced health care costs and reduced employee absenteeism for care attributable to child illness.” Additionally, it “the significantly lower incidence of illness in the breastfed infant allows the parents more time for attention to siblings and other family duties and reduces parental absence from work and lost income.”

If you are planning on, or interested in, breastfeeding your child and have questions or are looking for advice, there are several support groups available in Door County, which include the Door County Breastfeeding Support Group and the Le Leche League of Door County. Additionally, the WIC Breastfeeding Support Website (a part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture) can be accessed by clicking here and Door County Medical Center’s own Jessica Skinner RN and IBCLC (board certified lactation consultant) can be reached by calling the Women’s & Children’s center at (920)746-3595.

Published 8/3/2022 5:03:23 PM
Tags: breastfeeding, community health, infant, news, world breastfeeding week

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