Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding has many benefits for you and your baby. It helps build your baby’s immune system and offers the perfect nutrition. Some of the health benefits to you include a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

A woman breastfeeding her baby with several benefits of breastfeeding.
There are many nutritional, physical and emotional benefits to breastfeeding (chestfeeding) for you and your baby.

What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

Breastfeeding (chestfeeding) has many health benefits for you and your baby. Understanding these benefits can help you decide if breastfeeding is right for your family.

Benefits of breastfeeding for baby

Research suggests that breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of certain diseases and helps build a strong immune system. Breastfed (chestfed) babies have a lower risk of:

Studies show that breastfed infants have a lower hospitalization rate and tend to be in better health. This leads to fewer visits to their pediatrician for sicknesses.

Nutritional benefits of breast milk

Breast milk contains everything your baby needs to grow and develop. It provides a unique and specific formula of vitamins, minerals and antioxidants.

Breast milk supports your baby’s health because it:

  • Is easy for their immature tummy and intestines to digest.
  • Contains antibodies that protect against infection and boost immunity.
  • Has the right amount of fat, sugar, water, protein and vitamins for your baby’s development.
  • Promotes healthy weight gain.
  • Changes in composition to meet your baby’s nutritional needs over time.
  • Contains substances that naturally soothe your baby.

Most healthcare organizations recommend exclusively breastfeeding your baby for at least six months. Once your baby is old enough for solid food, you can introduce foods and continue with breastfeeding for up to two years or longer.

It’s worth noting that if you exclusively pump, your baby is still getting the nutritional and health benefits of breastmilk.

Components of breast milk

There are many components of breast milk that meet your baby’s needs. These include:

  • Carbohydrates, such as lactose, which support a healthy balance of bacteria in your baby’s stomach.
  • Fats that help your baby’s brain and nervous system develop.
  • Proteins, like lactoferrin and secretory IgA, that protect your baby from infections.
  • Vitamins that support your baby’s growth.
  • White blood cells that help fight infection.

Benefits for mom or breastfeeding parent

Breastfeeding offers several benefits for you, too. In the months after delivery, breastfeeding lowers your risk for postpartum depression if breastfeeding is going well and you feel well-supported. It also benefits you much farther down the road, lowering your risk of developing:

Besides supporting your long-term health, breastfeeding has many other benefits for you, as well as for your relationship with your baby. These include:

  • Quicker recovery from childbirth. Breastfeeding produces the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin helps your uterus contract after delivery. This helps it return to its normal size and reduces the amount of vaginal bleeding after delivery.
  • Increasing physical and emotional bonding. Breastfeeding is a special and unique way to feel connected to your baby. Some researchers have found that the bonding from breastfeeding may help reduce social and behavioral problems in both children and adults.
  • Establishing trust. Breastfeeding parents learn to read their infant’s cues, and babies learn to trust caregivers. This helps shape your baby’s early behavior.
  • Convenience. You can breastfeed nearly anywhere without worrying about preparing bottles or mixing formula. Your milk is available without needing to bring other supplies.
  • Low cost. Breastfeeding may have some initial costs like nursing bras and nipple cream, but it’s more affordable than formula in the long run. The cost of formula can be up to $10 a day depending on the brand, type and amount your baby drinks.

Does breastfeeding help you lose weight?

Breastfeeding may make it easier for you to lose the weight you gained during pregnancy. Breastfeeding burns calories, which can help with weight loss.

But not everyone loses weight from breastfeeding. Researchers aren’t entirely sure why some people lose weight while breastfeeding and others don’t. Several other factors contribute to weight loss/gain, like calorie consumption, physical activity and sleep quality.


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What are the benefits of breastfeeding by month?

Healthcare providers recommend exclusive breastfeeding until your baby is about 6 months old. That’s because this early period is crucial for providing your baby with the nutrients and antibodies they need to grow and develop.

Breastfeeding still provides valuable nutrients and immune protection for your baby until their second birthday, and even beyond. That’s why healthcare providers advise you to continue breastfeeding after introducing solid foods. Breast milk and solid foods complement each other to nourish your baby.

As you move toward the milestone of exclusively breastfeeding for six months, here are some benefits for your baby along the way:

  • At least three months of breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of stomach flu, diarrhea and ear infections in their first year. Your baby will also have a lower risk of developing asthma or eczema.
  • At least fourth months of breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of hospitalization for RSV or other lower respiratory tract infections.
  • At least six months of breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of childhood cancer.

Benefits of extended breastfeeding

Breastfeeding beyond one year and up to two years continues to benefit your baby’s development and growth. But it can also benefit the breastfeeding parent. Research shows breastfeeding beyond one year can help lower your risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, high blood pressure and Type 2 diabetes.

In addition, extended breastfeeding can help soothe your baby and provide comfort in times of upset.

Are babies who are breastfed smarter?

Studies suggest breastfeeding has a positive long-term effect on brain and behavioral development. However, there hasn’t been a study to confirm that a breastfed baby is smarter than a formula-fed baby. Feeding your baby with formula is also healthy and supports your baby’s growth and development.


What if I can’t breastfeed?

Many factors can prevent you from breastfeeding exclusively or at all. For example, certain medical conditions or prior surgeries can impact your body’s process of producing and releasing milk (lactation). Or your work schedule or other constraints may make breastfeeding hard to manage.

If breastfeeding isn’t doable for you, you’re not alone. Talk to your baby’s pediatrician about the best formula for your baby. They’ll also tell you if donated human milk is necessary to meet your baby’s needs and recommend a credible human milk bank. Never buy human milk online or from individual sellers. Such milk can be unsafe for your baby.

If your situation allows you to breastfeed but you’re facing challenges like low milk supply, talk to a lactation consultant or breastfeeding medicine specialist. These are certified health professionals who specialize in breastfeeding issues. They can help you overcome challenges that might otherwise make you stop breastfeeding.

A note from Cleveland Clinic

One of the many decisions you’ll make as a parent is how to feed your baby. Before you decide, take time to understand the many benefits of breastfeeding. Some people aren’t able to fully breastfeed or breastfeed at all, and that’s OK. There are many formula options that will help your baby grow. Talk to your baby’s pediatrician to get information and support as you navigate life with your new baby.

Care at Cleveland Clinic
Medically Reviewed

Last reviewed on 07/17/2023.

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