Breastfeeding is an essential part of the overall reproductive cycle for the mother, resulting in faster recovery from pregnancy. It may also reduce her risk of breast cancer. Breastfeeding is also the healthiest way to feed infants during at least the first year of life. Breast milk is full of important nutrients that boost an infant’s immune system and reduce the risk of many common childhood illnesses and infections, including ear infections, respiratory and gastrointestinal illnesses, diabetes, dermatitis, obesity and many other diseases. These essential nutrients are important in brain development and result in increased IQ points for breastfed children.

Many pregnant women are curious about whether they will succeed in breastfeeding and if they will produce enough milk. For first-time mothers, breastfeeding is a learned skill. You will want to learn as much as you can and ask for help when you need it. Good sources include your doctor, midwife, nurse practitioner or other healthcare professional, lactation consultant, and La Leche League, as well as workplace lactation programs that provide support to help you continue to breastfeed for as long as possible.

Why Lactation is Important

Breastfeeding protects babies!

1. Early breast milk is liquid gold – Known as liquid gold, colostrum (coh-LOSS-trum) is the thick yellow first breast milk that you make during pregnancy and just after birth. This milk is very rich in nutrients and antibodies to protect your baby. Although your baby only gets a small amount of colostrum at each feeding, it matches the amount his or her tiny stomach can hold.

2. Your breast milk changes as your baby grows – Colostrum changes into what is called mature milk. By the third to fifth day after birth, this mature breast milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein to help your baby continue to grow. It is a thinner type of milk than colostrum, but it provides all of the nutrients and antibodies your baby needs.

3. Breast milk is easier to digest – For most babies — especially premature babies — breast milk is easier to digest than formula. The proteins in formula are made from cow’s milk and it takes time for babies’ stomachs to adjust to digesting them.

4. Breast milk fights disease – The cells, hormones, and antibodies in breast milk protect babies from illness. This protection is unique; formula cannot match the chemical makeup of human breast milk. In fact, among formula-fed babies, ear infections and diarrhea are more common. Formula-fed babies also have higher risks of:

  • Necrotizing (nek-roh-TEYE-zing) enterocolitis (en-TUR-oh-coh-lyt-iss), a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in preterm infants.
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Type 2 diabetes

Some research shows that breastfeeding can also reduce the risk of Type 1 diabetes, childhood leukemia, and atopic dermatitis (a type of skin rash) in babies. Breastfeeding has also been shown to lower the risk of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).