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Breastmilk is Best

Breastmilk is the perfect food for your baby. It contains just the right amount of nutrients. It is also gentle on your baby's developing stomach, intestines, and other body systems. It is recommended that you breastfeed at least until your baby is 6 months old, then continue to breastfeed while adding solid foods until at least 1 to 2 years old.

Benefits of breastmilk

Here are some of the reasons that breastfeeding is best for your baby.

Healthy nutrients

  • Compared with formula, the nutrients in breastmilk are better absorbed and used by your baby. These include sugar (carbohydrate) and protein.

  • Breastmilk has the nutrients that are best for your baby’s brain growth and nervous system development. Studies of breastfed babies have found that they do better on intelligence tests when they grow older.

  • A breastfed baby's eyes also work better. This is mostly because of certain types of fat in breastmilk.

Preventing infections

  • Breastmilk has many disease-fighting factors. They help prevent mild to severe infections and hospitalization.

  • Breastfed babies have far fewer digestive, lung, and ear infections.

  • Babies born early (premature) who are breastfed are also less likely to get a serious infection of the intestines called NEC (necrotizing enterocolitis).

  • If your baby gets an infection when breastfeeding, the infection is likely to be less severe.

Preventing other conditions

Breastfeeding helps protects babies from many serious health problems. And it keeps on offering protection as they get older. Breastfed babies have:

  • A lower risk for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) than babies who are not breastfed.

  • A lower risk of getting asthma and skin problems related to allergies. Formula-fed babies are more likely to have milk allergies.

  • Less diarrhea and a lowered chance of getting some digestive conditions. Formula can actually change the healthy bacteria in a baby's intestines that help with digestion and fighting disease.

  • A lower risk of developing leukemia.

  • Fewer long-term health problems as they grow up. These include diabetes and obesity.

Women who breastfeed also get many health benefits. If you breastfeed, you are more likely to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy. You are also less likely to get breast and ovarian cancer and have lower blood pressure and a lower chance of diabetes later in life. 

What is exclusive breastfeeding?

Only breastfeeding for at least the first 6 months of life is best for your baby. This is called "exclusive" breastfeeding. Breastmilk can be expressed and fed to your baby in a bottle, as needed.

You should not give your baby water, sugar water, formula, or solids during their first 6 months. The only exception to this is:

  • When your baby's healthcare provider tells you to

Your baby’s provider may also tell you to give your baby vitamins. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that breastfed babies get extra vitamin D. Your baby's provider will tell you about the type and amount of vitamin D you should give your baby.

Risks of not breastfeeding only

You know about many of the benefits of breastfeeding. But you might not know why it is important to breastfeed only for at least 6 months.

Your baby gets the best protection against health problems when they get only breastmilk. Breastfeeding some of the time is good. But breastfeeding all the time is best.

Giving your baby formula or other liquids may make you:

  • Have more problems breastfeeding

  • Produce less milk

  • Be less confident in breastfeeding

  • Breastfeed less often

  • Stop breastfeeding before your baby is at least 6 months old                                                                                                                                      

Who should not breastfeed only

Breastfeeding only is almost always recommended. But your healthcare provider may have reasons to recommend giving your baby formula or other liquids. They include:

  • Your baby has certain health problems.  Breastmilk only is usually recommended. But you may need to add formula or other liquids. For example, your baby may need this if they have low blood sugar (hypoglycemia) or loss of body fluids (dehydration).

  • You have or have had certain health problems.  There are few reasons why you should not breastfeed your baby. Some infections can be passed through your breastmilk. People who use illegal drugs or alcohol should not breastfeed. Check with your healthcare provider about the safety of any medicines you are taking.

Online Medical Reviewer: Donna Freeborn PhD CNM FNP
Online Medical Reviewer: Heather M Trevino BSN RNC
Online Medical Reviewer: Michele Burtner CNM
Date Last Reviewed: 1/1/2023
© 2000-2023 The StayWell Company, LLC. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.