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:
- Ear infections
- Diarrhea and vomiting
- Respiratory infections
- Necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the digestive tract in preterm babies
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
- Type 2 diabetes
- Childhood leukemia and lymphoma
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.
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:
- Diseases like HIV and tuberculosis
- Chemotherapy or radiation treatment
- Alcohol or drug addiction
- Human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II
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.