Nutritional Benefits of Breastfeeding
August is the time of year when people around the world are celebrating the wonderful benefits of breastfeeding. Naturally, new parents want to provide the best nutrition for their child, and both the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months to provide optimal nutrition and health protection. From six months to one year, breastfeeding with complementary foods is recommended as the ideal feeding pattern for infants.
Human milk is considered the optimal form of infant nutrition for nearly all infants. The risks of not receiving human milk include increased rates of infant and maternal morbidity and mortality, increased health care costs, and significant economic losses to families and employers. Research continues to support the positive effects of human milk on infant and maternal health, as it is a living biological fluid with many qualities not replicable by human milk substitutes.
The health benefits of breastfeeding for children include protection against common infections, nutritionally balanced meals, and better survival for the first year of life. Breast milk contains many vitamins, minerals, and antibodies that contribute to the development of the infant’s immune and digestive systems. Longer-term effects of not breastfeeding include increased risk of type 1 diabetes, celiac disease, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome, and becoming overweight and obese later in life.
The benefits of breastfeeding extend to mothers, helping the mother’s healing after the trauma of childbirth, reducing the risk of postpartum depression, greater postpartum weight loss and better infant bonding. Long-term effects include reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers, hypertension, and type 2 diabetes.
This long-lasting chaos, along with its health, economic, and financial consequences and uncertainties, will certainly escalate further maternal mental health issues. Some may resort to substance abuse and alcohol consumption, while others may commit suicide. Gender-based intimate partner violence may rise.
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative, a joint initiative by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Children’s Fund, is a global effort to implement practices that protect, promote, and support breastfeeding. While breastfeeding is not always possible for every mother and baby, the potential benefits make it worth discussing with your health care provider and a licensed dietitian or registered dietitian nutritionist certified as an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant.
Happy Breastfeeding Awareness Month.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. (2015). Position of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: Promoting and Supporting Breastfeeding. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, 115, 444-449.
- Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics: https://www.eatright.org/health/pregnancy/breast-feeding/breast-feeding-benefits-for-baby-and-mom
- WHO: https://www.who.int/nutrition/bfhi/en/
- American Academy of Pediatrics. (2012). Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk. Paediatrics, 129 (3) e827-e841. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-3552
Dima El-Halabi, MSc, RDN
College of Health Sciences
Abu Dhabi University