What Can Breast Milk Do for Your Baby?

Bottle or breast? Which is better? The answer: Breast. If you’re able to breastfeed your bundle of joy, do it. Why?

Breast milk does a baby good. It can:

  • Protect her from a wide range of common and rare early childhood diseases
  • Raise the chances that she will make it safely through the first year of life and thrive over the long run
  • Boost her sense of well-being and help you bond

Doctors suggest you breastfeed until your baby is at least 1 year old. It doesn’t work for every mother, but if it does for you, then it can be the only food or liquid she needs for the first 6 months.

What Makes It So Good?

Four things top the list:

1. It’s a custom blend: Every species’ milk is just right for its own young. Breast milk has the exact amount of fat, sugar, water, protein and minerals your little human needs. That’s why it’s easy to digest.

Breast milk can be a game-changer for preemies. Little ones born before their digestive systems are fully developed are more likely to have health problems later on.

2. It protects your baby . Breastfed babies are less likely to have:

3. It’s a mood booster. The skin-to-skin contact comforts your baby and makes her feel secure. It’s not bad for mom, either.

4. It’s nature’s “smart food.” It changes to meet your baby’s needs. As she grows, the balance of hormones and antibodies in your milk changes with her.

What Else Does It Have?

It has a mix of hormones and immune factors like:

Prebiotics: They help your baby grow healthy gut bacteria and stop the bad kind from taking root. A breastfed baby is less likely to have problems with diarrhea than a formula-fed baby.

Antibodies: They help fight disease.If you come down with a virus while you’re breastfeeding, you’re probably going to pass it on to your baby. But your milk will also give her the antibodies that your body makes to fight the virus. She may not get sick at all. And if she does, your antibodies will help her get well sooner.

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It’s Good, but Not Perfect

Breast milk contains every nutrient your baby needs -- except one. That’s vitamin D, and your doctor will prescribe a supplement for her.

Not all babies thrive on it. It’s rare, but some little ones can’t stomach any form of milk at all. Your doctor can help you find special hypoallergenic, dairy- and lactose-free formulas.

Medications matter. Almost any medicine you take will pass into your milk. That means you and your doctor should talk about your meds to be sure you aren’t taking anything that’s bad for the baby. That includes vitamins, herbs, and over-the-counter drugs.

It isn’t for everyone. Not every mother can breastfeed. And some choose not to. Others have health problems that prevent breastfeeding. Among them are:

If You Can’t Breastfeed

The Human Milk Banking Association of North America uses a network of donors to offer every baby the chance to enjoy breast milk’s many health benefits.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Renee A. Alli, MD on April 17, 2018

Sources

SOURCES:

Women’s Health.gov: "Breastfeeding."

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: “Breast Feeding and Breast Milk.”

Healthychildren.org: “Psychological Benefits of Breastfeeding.”

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists: “Breastfeeding Your Baby.”

KidsHealth.org: “A Primer on Preemies.”

The Surgeon General’s Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding: “Fact Sheet.” 

Healthychildren.org: “Breastfeeding Benefits Your Baby's Immune System.”

Bener, A. Minerva Pediatrica, April 2008.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: “Breastfeeding and Breast Milk: Condition Information.”

Office of Women’s Health: “Breastfeeding.”

KidsHealth.org: “Breastfeeding vs. Formula Feeding.”

CDC: “When should a mother avoid breastfeeding?”

WomensHealth.gov: “Breastfeeding: Breastfeeding and special situations.”

Human Milk Banking Association of North America.

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