newborn baby breastfeeding

Breastfeeding facts and benefits that you should know about

There are a lot of breastfeeding facts and benefits, and most people don’t even know a fraction of them. It’s important that every new mom learns all about the benefits of breastfeeding as it is directly related to her baby’s health, and it holds many health benefits for her as well.

1) The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) breastfeeding recommendations

“Updated AAP guidance continues to recommend exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with complementary foods introduced around six months and continued breastfeeding until two years or beyond, as mutually desired by mother and child.”

2) UNICEF and the World Health Organization (WHO) breastfeeding recommendations

“WHO and UNICEF recommend that children initiate breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life – meaning no other foods or liquids are provided, including water. Infants should be breastfed on demand – that is as often as the child wants, day and night.”

“Breastmilk is the ideal food for infants. It is safe, clean and contains antibodies which help protect against many common childhood illnesses. Breastmilk provides all the energy and nutrients that the infant needs for the first months of life, and it continues to provide up to half or more of a child’s nutritional needs during the second half of the first year, and up to one third during the second year of life.”

3) International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

IBCLC stands for International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), lactation consultants who are certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners (IBLCE). IBCLC’S are allied healthcare professionals who specialize in the clinical management of breastfeeding.

They are responsible for duties such as advocating, educating, assessing and supporting. If you ever need breastfeeding education or support, it’s important to reach out for help from an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

4) Breastfeeding peer support

Studies have shown that peer support from other breastfeeding mothers has a lot to do with our own breastfeeding journeys. If you need support, you can get into contact with a breastfeeding peer counselor or a La Leche League International leader. They are great sources for evidence-based information.

5) Small breasts and breast size

Breast size depends on how much fatty tissue you have. The larger the breast, the more fatty tissue there is and vice versa. It is the amount of glandular (milk producing) tissue in your breast that matters and that is not usually related to the size of your breasts.

6) Your breastmilk has a unique scent

Newborns have a really strong sense of smell, and they know the unique scent of your breastmilk. That’s why your baby will turn their head to you when they’re hungry.

Studies show that babies who consume their mothers’ milk prefer the smell of their mothers’ breast milk to that of other breastfeeding mothers.

7) Colostrum

Around 16 weeks of pregnancy, the body will start producing colostrum, the first milk. This is the milk that your baby will be drinking for the first few days after birth.

It’s important to note that colostrum is milk and it’s more than enough for a newborn. Not only is it packed with nutrients, but also with immunity and important gut health ingredients for your baby. It truly is liquid gold for our babies.

8) Human milk oligosaccharides

Breastmilk contains 2 types of carbohydrates, lactose and oligosaccharides. Human milk oligosaccharides (HMOs) are very important and contribute to the development of an infant’s microflora and immune system.

They have been shown to have anti-bacterial, anti-viral and anti-inflammatory effects.

Among the compositional differences between breastmilk and cow’s milk, one of the major differences is the presence of HMOs in breastmilk, which are basically absent in cow’s milk and infant formula.

9) Breastmilk contains white blood cells

Colostrum contains around 146,000 cells per ml. Transitional (8–12 day postpartum) contains 27,500 cells per ml and mature milk (26–30 day postpartum) contains 23,650 cells per ml, respectively.

10) Breastmilk contains stem cells

The heterogeneous mixture of breast milk cells includes leukocytes, epithelial cells, stem cells, and bacteria.

11) Skin-to-skin care

Skin-to-skin care stimulates digestion and an interest in feeding and it promotes the initiation of breastfeeding. Together with all the Oxytocin hormones, this explains why skin-to-skin care not only increases the milk supply, but also helps babies with breastfeeding difficulties such as flow preference and breast refusal to breastfeed again.

12) The breast crawl

When a baby is placed on the mother’s bare chest directly after birth and is left undisturbed, strong instinctive behaviors will be initiated in both the mother and the baby. The baby will go through the 9 stages of innate newborn behavior, also known as the breast crawl.

They will find their way to the breast by using the stepping reflex to crawl upwards to the breasts. Babies will usually need very minimal if any assistance in finding and latching on to the breast. Having baby skin-to-skin helps with oxytocin, which not only helps with stimulating a letdown of colostrum from the breasts, but it also stimulates uterine contractions to help with the expulsion of the placenta, that together with the stepping reflex which helps release the placenta.

13) Signs that your baby is getting enough milk

One of the most common things breastfeeding mothers worry about is whether they have enough milk and whether their baby is receiving enough milk.

Signs that your baby is drinking enough milk are adequate amounts of wet and soiled diapers, adequate weight gain, overall content, happy and healthy. Growing as expected and meeting their milestones.

If you’re ever worried about whether your baby is getting enough milk, consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) to assess you and your baby and provide a treatment plan when necessary.

14) Cluster feeding

Cluster feeding is when your baby feeds very frequently, so much so that the feedings are ‘clustered’ together. They seem to feed almost continuously over several hours, often in the evening or early hours of the morning but it can occur at any time during the day or night. They may be very fussy, and they often won’t settle to sleep easily. This is completely normal behavior and it’s not a sign of low milk supply.

15) Breastmilk is especially important for preterm infants

One of the most fascinating breastfeeding facts is how our breastmilk composition changes for preterm babies compared to term babies and how much benefits and protection it offers them.

Breastmilk has significant benefits for infants. Premature infants receiving their mother’s own milk have a lower incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis, sepsis and retinopathy of prematurity than formula-fed preterm infants.

16) Breastfed babies have a reduced risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)

Babies who are breastfed or are fed expressed breastmilk are at lower risk for SIDS compared to babies who were never breastfed. According to research, the longer you exclusively breastfeed your baby, the lower their risk of SIDS.

17) Breastfeeding helps your child’s cognitive development

Research on the relationship between cognitive achievement (Intelligence tests/IQ scores and grades in school). Breastfeeding has also shown the greatest gains for the children who have breastfed for the longest duration.

18) Breastfeeding is extremely beneficial for babies

Breastfeeding offers children optimal nutrition, benefits cognitive, social and physical development and it offers them protection against respiratory and gastrointestinal infections, illnesses, reduces the risk of childhood cancer, reduces the risk of childhood obesity, reduces the risk of cardiovascular heart and metabolic disease and it reduces the risk of ear infections.

19) Breastfeeding mothers have a reduced risk of breast cancer

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding. This is in addition to the 7.0% decrease in risk observed for each birth. Breastfeeding has been shown to primarily reduce the risk of Triple‐Negative Breast Cancer (20%) as well as in carriers of BRCA1 mutations (22–50%).

20) Breastfeeding mothers have a reduced risk of ovarian cancer

Breastfeeding decreases the risk of ovarian cancer and for the high-grade serious subtype, the most lethal type of ovarian cancer.

21) Breastfeeding mothers have a reduced risk of postpartum depression

Studies have found that women who were breastfeeding at two months postpartum had a lower risk of postpartum depression at four months postpartum.

22) Breastfeeding mothers have a reduced risk of diabetes and high blood pressure

In a meta-analysis of 7 studies, breastfeeding decreased the risk of type 2 diabetes by nearly 40% compared to formula-feeding. Breastfeeding may also decrease the risk of developing type 1 diabetes and high blood pressure later in adulthood.

23) Breastfeeding mothers get more sleep than formula feeding mothers

One study investigated the sleeping patterns of postpartum women immediately following delivery and found that breastfeeding women slept on average 2.6 hours longer than women who bottle fed.

24) HIV-infected mothers can breastfeed

An HIV-infected mother on antiretroviral therapy (ART) with a sustained undetectable HIV viral load during pregnancy, has a risk of HIV transmission through breastfeeding of less than 1%.

25) Your breastmilk contains Melatonin

Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland which plays a role in regulating sleep and circadian rhythm. Breastmilk contains higher concentrations of Melatonin during the nighttime, which peaks around 3am. This is why your baby may get very sleepy while breastfeeding. This is just another reason to prove that breastfeeding to sleep and co-sleeping is completely biologically normal.

26) Breastfeeding burns calories

Producing breastmilk burns around 450-500 calories per day. This explains why many breastfeeding mothers may lose their pregnancy weight so quickly, and also why they may feel the need to eat or snack very often.

27) Breastfed babies should be fed responsively

Breastfed babies should not be fed on a schedule. Breastmilk digests much quicker than infant formula. Babies can regulate their own nutrients and caloric intake and should always be allowed to breastfeed responsively.

28) Safety of medications

Most medications are safe to take while breastfeeding, and even if it’s not, there’s almost always a safer alternative. It’s important to remember that some medications may be safe to take while breastfeeding, but may reduce the milk supply, so it’s important to always check the safety of a medication at a reputable source.

If you ever need more information on whether a medication you want to take is safe, there are a few options such as the E-Lactancia website, the PubMed website, Infant Risk Centre and Hale’s medications. You can also consult with an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) who can provide you with evidence based information on the safety if medications.

It is recommended that babies exclusively breastfeed for the first 6 months of life. Babies under the age of 6 months don’t need anything other than breastmilk or infant formula.
Even in the second part of the first year, babies will need very little solid foods. Breastmilk will still be the main source of nutrition until the second year of life.

30) Natural term breastfeeding

Kathrine A Dettwyler, PHD, an anthropologist and breastfeeding advocate, has done in-depth research on when mammals, including humans tend to wean.

The minimum predicted age for natural weaning in humans is 2.5 years of age, and the maximum predicted age is 7.0 years of age.

Important notes

Always remember that you can reach out to an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant or healthcare provider that’s experienced and knowledgeable in working with breastfeeding families any time during your breastfeeding for any education or support that you may need.

Additional information and resources:

E-Lactancia medication safety website

A Natural Age of Weaning by Katherine A Dettwyler, PhD

Breastfeeding and Health Outcomes for the Mother-Infant Dyad

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) breastfeeding recommendations

The World Health Organization (WHO) breastfeeding recommendations

When breastfeeding, how many calories should moms and babies consume?

Sleep duration of lactating mothers and its relationship with feeding pattern, milk macronutrients and related serum factors: A combined longitudinal cohort and cross-sectional study

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