Mother, Infant and Young Child Nutrition & Malnutrition Mother, Infant and Young Child Nutrition & Malnutrition - Feeding practices including micronutrient deficiencies prevention, control of wasting, stunting and underweight
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Home  »  Healthy Nutrition  »  About Essential Nutrition Actions  »  Benefits of Breastfeeding

About Essential Nutrition Actions at Critical Stages in the Life Cycle of Women and Children

Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Infant/Young Child

Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Mother  -  Family  -  Community/Nation

Breastfeeding benefits for the infant

Breastfeeding offers advantages for children that cannot be duplicated by any other form of feeding. The benefits of breastfeeding begin from the first moments after childbirth and last for many years after breastfeeding ends.

  1. Breast milk saves infants' lives.
  2. It is a whole food for the infant and contains all the needed nutrients for his/her first 6 months in balanced proportions and sufficient quantities.
  3. It promotes adequate growth and development, thus preventing stunting.
  4. It is always clean.
  5. It contains antibodies that protect against diseases, especially against diarrhoea and respiratory infections.
  6. It is always ready and at the right temperature.
  7. It is easy to digest. Nutrients are well absorbed.
  8. It protects against allergies. Breast milk antibodies protect the baby's gut preventing harmful substances from passing into the blood.
  9. It contains enough water for the baby's needs (87% of water and minerals).
  10. It helps jaw and teeth development; suckling develops facial muscles.
  11. Frequent skin-to-skin contact between mother and infant leads to better psychomotor, emotional and social development of the infant.
  12. The infant benefits from the colostrum, which protects him/her from disease. The colostrum acts as a laxative cleaning the infant's stomach.


Saves Lives
  • Currently there are 9 million infant deaths a year. Breastfeeding saves an estimated 6 million additional deaths from infectious disease alone.
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Provides Perfect Nutrition
  • Breast milk is a perfect food that cannot be duplicated. Mother's milk is tailor-made for your baby. In fact, it actually matches 50% of your baby's genetic material.

  • Breast milk provides the right balance of nutrients. It is the most natural and nutritious way to encourage your baby's development.

    Summary of differences between milks

  • To date, we have identified over 200 components in breast milk, and each plays a role not only in the baby's nutrition, but also in general development and growth as well as the development of the immune and nervous systems.

  • Breast milk provides all of the calories your baby needs in the first 6 months. It has the perfect combination of proteins, fats, carbohydrate, and fluids that new-born babies require.

  • Breast milk composition is very stable, even when the mother has a poor diet or is ill.

  • Mother's milk contributes significantly to the growth and maturation of the baby's digestive system, which is not complete until around 6 months of age.

  • The sugar (carbohydrate) and protein in breast milk are also designed to be used easily and more completely by the human baby.

  • Breast milk prevents a shortage of vitamin A between 12 and 36 months.

    Breast milk in second year of life

  • With less salt and less protein, breast milk is easier on a baby's kidneys.

  • Breast milk decreases the risk for vitamin E and Iron deficiency anemia.

  • Breast milk is a dynamic fluid that changes in composition throughout the day and throughout the course of lactation. It provides for the baby the specific nutrients that are needed at each age and in each situation. The varying composition of breast milk keeps pace with the infant's individual growth and changing nutritional needs.

  • Breast milk tastes different from feeding to feeding, Subtle changes in the taste of breast milk prepare babies to accept a variety of solid foods.

    Breast milk composition differences (dynamic)

  • Children receive the most complete and optimal mix of nutrients and antibodies.

  • Breast milk provides adequate water for hydration.

    No water necessary

  • All types of immunoglobulins are found in breast milk. The highest concentration is found in colostrum, the pre-milk that is only available from the breast the first three to five days of the baby's life.

    Colostrum - Property and Importance

  • Colostrum: Even before your baby is born, your breasts are making colostrum

  • Colostrum is a Thick Milk That is Clear and Colorless or Yellowish.

    • Is high in protein, which is exactly what your baby needs in the first few days
    • Contains antibodies that protect baby from infections
    • Helps baby pass the dark, tarry stools he has in the first day or two.
Nurse your baby often in the first few days so he'll get plenty of colostrum. It will also help your breastmilk supply to come in.
  • When your baby is 2 to 5 days old, your milk will become thinner and bluish-white in color, like skim milk. Your breasts will also feel fuller. Congratulations, your milk has come in! When this happens, it is very important to nurse your baby frequently to keep your breasts from becoming too full or engorged.

    Your milk changes as your baby feeds. When your baby first begins a nursing session, he gets foremilk. Foremilk is lower in fat and higher in lactose, a milk sugar that is important for development. The foremilk quenches your baby's thirst. As the feeding progresses, your milk transitions to hindmilk. Hindmilk is higher in fat, so it helps your baby feel full longer. During a feeding, it's important not to switch breasts until your baby has had a chance to get the hindmilk from the first breast. Some people think of hindmilk as the baby's dessert.

  • Secretory IGA, a type of immunoglobulin that protects the ears, nose, throat, and the GI tract, is found in high amounts in breast milk throughout the first year. Secretory IGA does its work before it is digested in the stomach. Secretory IGA attaches to the lining of the nose, mouth, and throat and fights the attachment of specific infecting agents. Breast milk levels of IGA against specific viruses and bacteria increase in response to a maternal exposure to these organisms.

  • Lactoferrin is an iron-binding protein that is found in breast milk, but is not available in formulas. It limits the availability of iron to bacteria in the intestines, and alters which healthy bacteria will thrive in the gut. Again, it is found in the highest concentrations in colostrum, but persists throughout the entire first year. It has a direct antibiotic effect on bacteria such as staphylococci and E. coli.

  • Breast milk contains lysozyme (a potent digestive ingredient) at a level thirty times higher than in any formula. Interestingly, while other contents of breast milk vary widely between well nourished and poorly nourished mothers, the amount of lysozyme is conserved, suggesting that it is very important. It has a strong influence on the type of bacteria that inhabit the intestinal tract.

  • Breast milk specifically encourages the growth of Lactobacillaceae, which are helpful bacteria that can inhibit many of the disease-causing gram-negative bacteria and parasites. In fact, there is a striking difference between the bacteria found in the guts of breast- and formula-fed infants. Breast-fed infants have a level of lactobacillus that is typically 10 times greater than that of formula-fed infants. Both the presence of the lactobacilli and the action of the lactoferrins and lysosomes help protect the infant by limiting the growth of unhealthy bacteria in the gut.

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Toddler Health

Toddler health

  • Mothers of 67 infants were questioned about the types and duration of illness episodes requiring medical care between 16 and 30 months of age. Breastfeeding was noted to decrease the number of infant illnesses and indirectly improve toddler health.
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Bonds Mother and Child
  • Breastfeeding is a gentle way for newborns to transition to the world outside the womb.

  • Breastfeeding provides physiological and psychological benefits for both mother and child. It creates emotional bonds, and has been known to reduce rates of infant abandonment.

    The skin-to-skin contact encouraged by breastfeeding offers babies greater emotional security and enhances bonding.

  • The skin-to-skin contact encouraged by breastfeeding offers babies greater emotional security and enhances bonding.

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Protects Against Infection

protects against infection

  • Human milk has been called environmentally specific milk -- the mother provides it for her infant to protect specifically against the organisms that her infant is most likely to be exposed to.

  • Breast milk helps your child fight germs and reduces the risk of developing infections. Research shows that breastfed infants have fewer and shorter episodes of illness.

  • Illness and death are lower in children who are breastfeed until age 2 or 3.

  • Breastfed babies cry less and have less digestive troubles, such as colic.

  • Anti-infective properties
    Only breast milk is alive with many different kinds of disease-fighting factors that help prevent mild to severe infections. Babies who are fully or almost-fully breastfed, or breast milk-fed babies, have significantly fewer gastrointestinal, respiratory, ear, and urinary infections.

  • Antibodies in breast milk directly protect against infection. Other anti-infective factors create an environment that is friendly to good bacteria, referred to as normal flora and unfriendly to bad bacteria, viruses, or parasites.

  • On average, breastfed babies have fewer infections in their early life. In particular, they have less diarrhoea and vomiting, chest infections, and ear infections compared to babies who are not breast fed. The main reason for this is that antibodies and other proteins are passed in the breast milk from mother to baby. These help to protect against infection.

  • Breast milk also appears to have properties that help a baby's own immune system work best. If your baby does become ill when breastfeeding and receiving your milk, the infection is likely to be less severe.

  • In developed countries such as the UK the reduction in the risk of infection is significant. In developing countries such as certain countries in Africa the reduction in the risk of infection is dramatic. For example, a review in 42 developing countries estimated that exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with partial breastfeeding continuing to 12 months, could prevent 1.3 million deaths each year in children under five years.

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Protects Against Illnesses

protects against illnesses

  • Compared with formula-fed children, those who are breastfed are healthier and have fewer symptoms and shorter illnesses when they do get sick.

  • Protection against ear infections, respiratory illnesses, pneumonia, bronchitis, kidney infections, septicemia (blood poisoning),

  • Increased resistance to infections. Baby is less likely to be hospitalized due to serious illness.

  • Breastfed infants, and those who are fed expressed breast milk, have fewer deaths during the first year and experience fewer illnesses than babies fed ormula.

  • Among the studies showing that breastfed infants have a lower risk of infection than non-breastfed infants are:

  • In a 1993 University of Texas Medical Branch study, a longer period of breastfeeding was associated with a shorter duration of some middle ear infections (otitis media with effusion) in the first two years of life.

  • A 1995 study of 87 infants found that breastfed babies had half the incidence of diarrheal illness, 19% fewer cases of any otitis media infection, and 80% fewer prolonged cases of otitis media than formula fed babies in the first twelve months of life.

  • Breastfeeding appeared to reduce symptoms of upper respiratory tract infections in premature infants up to seven months after release from hospital in a 2002 study of 39 infants.

  • A 2004 case-control study found that breastfeeding reduced the risk of acquiring urinary tract infections in infants up to seven months of age, with the protection strongest immediately after birth.

  • The 2007 review for AHRQ found that breastfeeding reduced the risk of acute otitis media, non-specific gastroenteritis, and severe lower respiratory tract infections.

  • Bowels. Less constipation. Stools of breastfed babies have a less-offensive odor.

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Prevents Diarrhoea
  • Diarrhoea is the leading cause of death among infants in developing countries. Infants under two months of age who are not breastfed are 25 times as likely to die of diarrhoea than infants exclusively breastfed. Continued breastfeeding during diarrhoea reduces dehydration, severity, duration, and negative nutritional consequences of diarrhoea.

    Relative risks of death from diarrhoeal disease by age and breastfeeding category in Latin America

  • Babies will breastfeed when they have diarrhoea and a fever even when they refuse other foods. This keeps fluids levels high, prevents dehydration and helps them get better faster.

    Risk of diarrhoea by feeding method for infants aged 0-2 months, Philippines

  • Diarrhoeal disease is three to four times more likely to occur in infants fed formula than those fed breast milk.

    Percentage of babies bottle-fed and breastfed for the first 13 weeks that had diarrhoeal illness at various weeks of age during the first year, Scotland

  • Children less than 12 months of age had a lower incidence of acute diarrhoeal disease during the months they were being breastfed than children that were fed with formula during the same period.

    Percentage of infants 2-7 months of age reported as experiencing diarrhoea, by feeding category in the preceding month in the U.S.

  • Digestive system. Less diarrhea, fewer gastrointestinal infections in babies who are breastfeeding. Six months or more of exclusive breastfeeding reduces risk of food allergies. Also, less risk of Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis in adulthood.
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Reduces Risk of Respiratory Infections
  • Short duration of breastfeeding involved another significant risk of recurrent respiratory infections and otitis media.

  • Respiratory system. Evidence shows that breastfed babies have fewer and less severe upper respiratory infections, less wheezing, less pneumonia and less influenza.

    Percentage of babies bottle-fed and breastfed for the first 13 weeks that had respiratory illness at various weeks of age during the first year, Scotland

  • Respiratory Syncytical Virus (RSV)
    Breastfeeding was associated with a lower incidence of RSV infection during the first year of life.

  • Respiratory Infections
    The authors presented results found in infants with two or more episodes of acute chronic bronchitis. They found that approximately twice as many bottle-fed infants presented with the problem as those who were breastfed.

  • There was a strong negative effect modification by breastfeeding: relative odds of respiratory illness with maternal smoking were seven times higher among children who were never breastfed then among those who were breastfed.

    Relative risks of death from acute respiratory infections by age and breastfeeding category in Latin America

  • Significantly increased risk for acute otitis media as well as prolonged duration of middle ear effusion were associated with male gender, sibling history of ear infection and not being breastfed.

    Percentage of infants 2-7 months of age reported as experiencing ear infections, by feeding category in the preceding month in the U.S.

  • Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the likelihood of ear infections, and to prevent recurrent ear infections. Ear infections are a major reason that infants take multiple courses of antibiotics.

  • Respiratory illness is far more common among formula-fed children. In fact, an analysis of many different research studies concluded that infants fed formula face a threefold greater risk of being hospitalized with a severe respiratory infection than do infants breast-fed for a minimum of four months.

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Promotes the Recovery of the Sick Child


  • Breastfeeding provides a nutritious, easily digestible food when a sick child loses appetite for other foods. When a child is ill or has diarrhea, breastfeeding helps prevent dehydration. Frequent breastfeeding also diminishes the risk of malnutrition and fosters catch-up growth following illness.

  • General
    Infants of a middle class and well-educated populations benefit from the breastfeeding practice and its protective effect, more so if they are exclusively breastfed and for a longer period.

  • In developing countries, differences in infection rates can seriously affect an infant's chances for survival. For example, in Brazil, a formula-fed baby is 14 times more likely to die than an exclusively breast-fed baby.

  • Immunologic Development
    Enhanced fecal SIgA in breastfed infants is not cause solely by the presence of IgA in breast milk; it represents a stimulatory effect of breast milk on the gastrointestinal humeral immunologic development.
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General Morbidity
  • There is an inverse relationship to breastfeeding and morbidity. This was most prominent in the first year of life, but it was also present in the first three years.
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Infant Survival
  • There is an association between breastfeeding up to 6 months of age and survival of infants throughout the first year of life. The younger the infant and the longer the breastfeeding, the greater the estimated benefits in terms of death averted.

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Provides Initial Immunization

provides initial immunization

  • Breast milk, especially the first milk (colostrum), contains anti-bacterial and anti-viral agents that protect the infant against disease. The colostrum coats the GI tract, preventing harmful bacteria and allergy -triggering protein molecules from crossing into baby's blood. Breast milk also aids the development of the infant's own immune system.

  • During breastfeeding antibodies pass to the baby. This is one of the most important features of colostrum, the breast milk created for newborns. Breast milk contains several anti-infective factors such as bile salt stimulated lipase (protecting against amoebic infections), lactoferrin (which binds to iron and inhibits the growth of intestinal bacteria) and immunoglobulin A protecting against microorganisms.
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Enhances Vaccine Response
  • Breastfed babies respond better to vaccinations. Breastfeeding helps the baby's immune system mature, protecting the baby in the meantime from viral, bacteria, and parasitic infections.

  • Breastfeeding promotes earlier development of the infant immune system and increases the effectiveness of immunizations, increasing the protection against polio, tetanus, and diptheria vaccines.

  • Breast milk can transfer specific or nonspecific immunities to the external mucosal surface of the intestine and possibly to the respiratory tract of the newborn. The acquisition of such passive immunity is particularly important in the early neonatal period when the immune system is immature.

  • Many studies show that breastfeeding strengthens the immune system. During nursing, the mother passes antibodies to the child, which help the child resist diseases and help improve the normal immune response to certain vaccines.

  • The antibody levels of immunized infants were significantly higher in the breastfed than the formula-fed group. These findings are strong evidence that breastfeeding enhances the active humoral immune response in the first year of life.

  • The breastfed group had significantly higher antibody levels than two formula-fed groups together. Breastfed infants thus showed better serum and secretory responses to perioral and parenteral vaccines than the formula-fed, whether with a conventional or low-protein content.
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Premature and Low Birthweight Infants
  • Breastfeeding provides benefits not just for full-term infants but also for premature and low birthweight infants.

  • Compared with premature infants who receive breast milk, those who receive formula have future IQs that are 8–15 points lower.

  • Less necrotizing enterocolitis in premature infants

  • Breastfeeding may protect preemies from infections and high blood pressure later in life

  • For premature infants, breast milk:
    • significantly shortens length of hospital stay
    • reduces hospital costs
    • hastens brainstem maturation
    • reduces the risk of life-threatening disease of the gastrointestinal system and other infectious diseases

  • Breastfeeding releases endorphins, which creates a feeling of relaxation and well being in mother and baby, and is even an ideal pain reliever for the baby.

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  • Breast milk is always available, never spoiled and totally free.

  • Breast milk availability works on a supply and demand basis. Maintaining a good milk supply depends on the regular stimulation provided by baby or by pumping. Double pumping helps increase your prolactin levels, which helps maintain milk supply. This benefit is important to working mothers who might have difficulty maintaining their milk supply because baby isn't always available for breast stimulation.

  • No mistakes in mixing.

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Easily Digested

  • Since nature designed human milk for human babies, breast milk is the most nutritious and easily digested food your baby can receive. A nutritious, yet easily digested first food is important for a baby's immature digestive tract. Babies uses less energy, yet break breast milk down more completely into its basic ingredients, so the nutrients, anti-infective factors, and all the other ingredients in your milk are more available to fuel the baby's body functions and to pro