A new mom can choose to feed her newborn with breast milk or infant formula, either of which can meet baby's needs.
Breast milk provides the gold standard to meet babies’ nutritional needs.
Many benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby exist, such as providing important nutrients and protective benefits to baby to helping mom lose weight more quickly.
Leading health organizations recommend that moms exclusively breastfeed for at least six months.
With a little one on the way, you might be on the fence about whether to breastfeed your baby or use formula. While each option comes with pros and cons, breastfeeding wins on the nutrition front. Why? Breast milk provides the optimal source of nutrition for most infants and experts consider mother’s milk as the gold standard in infant nutrition. In a nutshell, breastfeeding gives your infant a healthy start to life.
Plus, you might be surprised to learn that nursing delivers health benefits to both infants and mothers no matter how long you breastfeed your baby. Read on to learn about some of the top benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby.
What Are 5 Advantages of Breastfeeding?
The benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mom are plentiful.
Breastfeeding provides the nutrients your baby needs. Breast milk serves as the best source of nutrition to help your baby grow and develop right from day one. Called liquid gold, colostrum is that thick, yellowish “first milk” that women produce during pregnancy and right after childbirth. It’s packed with nutrients and antibodies that protect baby from infections, and it helps your newborn’s digestive system develop and function.1 Rich in vitamins, minerals, and other key nutrients, breast milk even changes to meet your baby's nutritional needs as he or she grows and develops. Colostrum changes into “mature milk” between three to five days after childbirth, containing just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein your baby1,2 However, experts recommend that breastfed babies need additional vitamin D (beginning at birth) and possibly additional iron from supplements.3 Therefore it’s important to speak to your pediatrician about any supplementation that is recommended for your baby.
Breastfeeding protects your baby. One of the big benefits of breastfeeding for baby is the protective health benefits that can only be found in breast milk. According to the Centers for Disease Control, a breastfed baby has a decreased risk of ear infections, diarrhea, vomiting, asthma, childhood obesity, Type 1 diabetes, lower respiratory infections, eczema, childhood leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).2,4All these protective benefits come exclusively from the cells, hormones, and antibodies found in mother’s milk.1
Breastfeeding is convenient. With formula, you need to ensure you stock your kitchen with plenty of it to meet baby’s round-the-clock feeding. Plus, you need to measure and mix formula, then heat it up to make sure it’s just the right temperature so baby can safely drink it. All this can take time, which can be stressful if you’ve got a crying, hungry baby. You also need to buy bottles and nipples and sterilize them after each use. If baby will be leaving home for a few hours, you need to make sure you pack enough formula in baby’s diaper bag to last for the duration of your out-of-the-house adventure. With breastfeeding, you always have what you need to meet baby’s demands, no matter where you are. You don’t need to pack any bottles with you in baby’s diaper bag (unless you’re taking some “me time” away from baby and someone else will be caring for your baby for a few hours). And breast milk is always just the right temperature and ready to feed your hungry newborn within seconds. No measuring, mixing, or heating, so breastfeeding provides quick, safe, immediate nourishment to satisfy your hungry baby.
Breastfeeding is economical. The cost of formula can quickly add up over the course of baby’s first year or two. In fact, according to the U.S. Surgeon General, infant formula can cost between $1,200–$1,500 in the first year alone.5 On the other hand, breast milk is absolutely free. And because breastfed babies might be sick less often than formula-fed infants, breastfeeding might also lower your overall healthcare costs. In fact, if 90% of U.S. mothers followed the recommendation to breastfeed exclusively for the first six months, it would save $13 billion per year, providing an enormous economic benefit on a national level.6 Case in point: Mutual of Omaha reported that health care costs for infants whose mothers took part in company’s employee maternity and lactation program are three times lower than those who did not.5
Breastfeeding promotes skin-to-skin contact. When it comes to bonding with your newborn, physical contact is very important. As you snuggle your baby close to nurse, that physical contact helps your baby feel safe, warm, secure, and loved. And that skin-to-skin contact increases your levels of oxytocin—the hormone that promotes breast milk flow and helps you feel calm.2
How Does Breastfeeding Help Your Body?
You might have already known that breastfeeding is good for baby, but you might not be familiar with the benefits of breastfeeding for mom. Breastfeeding improves mom’s health and well-being as well. For starters, breastfeeding can help you heal and recover more quickly from childbirth. And if you were worried about pregnancy weight gain, breastfeeding may help you lose weight after childbirth more quickly.2 Women who breastfeed their babies have a decreased risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.4
What Are Disadvantages Of Breastfeeding?
As you can see, there are a lot of benefits of breastfeeding. While experts agree that “breast is best” for newborns, there are some disadvantages and obstacles to breastfeed.5,7,8
Breastfeeding can be challenging for some women who might experience issues such as engorgement, pain, low milk supply, blocked milk ducts, and poor latching from their newborn.
The breastfeeding mom must be available to feed the baby or deal with pumping breast milk and providing it to a caregiver if she is not available.
Some women lack the family or social support they need to start and continue breastfeeding.
Some women don’t have access to up-to-date instruction and information on lactation and breastfeeding from a lactation specialist or other healthcare professional.
Some women have health problems (such as being HIV-positive) that make breastfeeding
Some women may need to take medication and are worried that this could be transmitted to the baby through breastmilk. Discuss this with your doctor, pediatrician or pharmacist.
Many workplaces don’t accommodate female employees who want to breastfeed or express milk at work.
Why Is Breastfeeding So Important?
With so many benefits of breastfeeding for baby and mom, leading health organizations recommend breastfeeding over bottle-feeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their babies for the first six months and then continue once solid foods are introduced through the baby’s first year or longer.9 The World Health Organization (WHO) also recommends breastfeeding exclusively for six months and continuing up to the age of two or even longer.10
Breastfeeding offers many positives, ranging from physical and psychological health benefits for moms and babies to saving money to offering a safe, convenient way to feed babies. Both the AAP and WHO recommend exclusively breastfeeding for the first six months and continuing for at least one to two years or beyond. If you have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding, consult with your baby’s doctor. Your breastfeeding journey can be an amazing time to connect with your newborn and bestow physical, emotional, and psychological benefits. If you do decide to breastfeed and you want to nourish your baby with a nutrient-packed breast milk supply, read this guide to breastfeeding diet for moms as well as what foods to avoid while breastfeeding.
Continue to check back on the Nature Made blog for the latest science-backed articles to help you take ownership of your health.
This information is for educational purposes only and is not intended to serve as medical advice or a recommendation for any specific product. Consult your health care provider for more information.
Lisa Beach is a seasoned journalist whose work has been published in The New York Times, Good Housekeeping, Eating Well, Parents, AARP’s Disrupt Aging, Optimum Wellness, and dozens more. She also writes for a variety of health/wellness-focused brands. Check out her writer’s website at www.LisaBeachWrites.com.
Senior Manager, Medical and Scientific Communications
Melissa is a Registered Dietitian and provides leadership to Pharmavite’s Medical and Scientific Education team. She has over 20 years of experience educating consumers, healthcare professionals, retailers and employees about nutrition, dietary supplements, and overall wellness. Prior to joining the Medical and Scientific Communications team, Melissa launched and managed Pharmavite’s Consumer Affairs department and worked as a clinical dietitian throughout Southern California. Melissa received her Bachelor of Science degree in Nutritional Sciences from the University of Arizona in Tucson, Arizona, and completed her dietetic internship at Veteran’s Hospital in East Orange New Jersey.