Breastfeeding Benefits for Mom & Baby - What is in Breastmilk?

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 5 minutes

What should I know about the benefits of breastmilk?

  • Why breastfeeding is so highly recommended

  • Short- and long-term health benefits of breastfeeding for baby (and you!)

  • Why support matters for your success

Pregnancy and infancy represent a critical period of growth and development for your baby. This is the best time to provide an environment that will help support life-long health, including the nutrition your baby gets.

The most complete form of nutrition for infants - breastmilk - offers a range of benefits for health, growth, immunity, and development.

The World Health Organization as well as the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend breastfeeding exclusively for at least six months (and even up to two years and beyond).1,2,3 Many studies show the long-lasting benefits of breastfeeding for both you and your baby.4,5

Need some help breastfeeding? Check out:

Top Breastfeeding Latching Tips

Breastfeeding: How to Support a Good Milk Supply

What is in breastmilk?

Breastmilk is easy to digest and provides the perfect balance of protein, fat, carbohydrates, and nutrients to promote the growth and development of your baby. Interestingly, breastmilk changes as your baby grows to help best meet her needs. 

Breastmilk also contains hundreds of invaluable substances, including:

  • Antibodies and white blood cells

  • Probiotics (as many as 600 different species!)

  • Hormones

  • Growth factors

  • Antibacterial properties

  • Oligosaccharides (special carbohydrates that encourage the growth of friendly bacteria in the digestive system)

  • Long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids (important for the development of their brain, eyes and nervous system)

  • Cytokines (special proteins involved in cell communication and immune system formation)

  • And many, many more!6

Breastfeeding not only provides your baby with tailored nutrition, but it’s available on demand, day or night, and it’s free of charge! Though the health benefits of breastmilk go well beyond convenience and cost.

Our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants is available to chat for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat now!

Read about: Should I Breastfeed On Demand or on a Schedule?

What are the benefits of breastfeeding for baby?

Scientific research suggests a substantial number of potential health benefits of breastfeeding for baby. These benefits include:

  • Decreased rates of sudden infant death syndrome in the first year of life (an effect that becomes even stronger when breastfeeding is exclusive)7,8

  • Lower post-neonatal infant mortality rates9

  • Decreased risk of baby developing eczema, asthma, and food allergies later in life10,11

  • Slightly enhanced performance on tests of cognitive development.12,13

  • Lower incidence of infectious diseases, such as diarrhea, pneumonia, ear infection, respiratory tract illness bacterial meningitis, urinary tract infection, bacteremia, necrotizing enterocolitis, and late onset sepsis in preterm infants.14,15

  • Improved dental health and reduced teeth alignment issues.16

  • Reduction of the risk of obesity later in life.17,18

  • Decreased rates of type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus and other disease in older children and adults.19,20,21,22

And if this wasn’t enough, breastmilk also exposes your baby to the flavors of the foods you eat.  This can help her become a more adventurous eater when she herself begins to eat solids, and throughout her lifetime as well.23

Learn more:

Learning to Love Healthy Foods

Picky eating: Taste Imprinting During Pregnancy and Breastfeeding

What are the benefits of breastfeeding for mom?

Your baby isn’t the only one who benefits from breastfeeding.24 The health benefits for the breastfeeding parent are also significant and include:

  • A lasting, intimate bond with your baby. Especially if you stay present while nursing with lots of touching, talking, singing, and eye contact.25,26

  • Stimulation of your body to produce antibodies in your milk which in turn helps your baby stay well or recover faster if sick.27,28

  • May help with your return to your pre-pregnancy weight by increasing your energy requirements, promoting the mobilization of fat stores, and quickens your uterus to contract to its pre-pregnancy size.29,30

  • Decreased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.31,32

  • Reduced risk of developing type 2 Diabetes.33,34

Breastfeeding can also just make life easier for you, too.

At night, putting a baby to your breast is much simpler and faster than getting up to prepare or warm a bottle of formula. It’s wonderful to be able to pick up the baby and go out—whether around town or on longer trips—without having to carry a bag full of feeding equipment.

Not to mention you’re sparing the environment the creation and recycling or landfilling of so much formula packaging all while sparing your bank account!

Learn about:

Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding

How Much Should I Eat While Breastfeeding?

How Can I Prepare To Breastfeed?

Plan ahead for breastfeeding success

Before giving birth, familiarize yourself with breastfeeding, latching and what to expect in the first few weeks of nursing. You’ll be swept up in lots of excitement when your baby is born, so having some initial familiarity with these concepts will help with the transition.

Learn more: Preparing to Breastfeed

Where can I find breastfeeding support?

Familiarize yourself with your hospital or birth center’s onsite breastfeeding support as well as support you can access once you’re back home. Supports can include lactation counselors or consultants and breastfeeding hotlines. If you are delivering in a hospital, find out if the hospital supports The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI).

You can also chat with our Happy Experts, who are breastfeeding specialists, lactation counselors, and registered dietitian nutritionists. They can help with many of these issues and help you find local lactation support if you need in-person assessment. Chat now.

Find a local lactation consultant before you give birth

Breastfeeding is a new skill for both you and your baby, whether it’s your first or your 4th! While you’ll learn and find your way together, you still may need or simply want additional support, or a home visit. It’s best to locate these helpful individuals in advance!

In addition to relying on the Happy Experts, seek out a local lactation counselor or International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC).

How long should I breastfeed for?

Aim to breastfeed exclusively (breastmilk only) until your baby is about 6 months old.

At approximately 6 months, you can introduce solid foods as a complementary feeding method while continuing to breastfeed as the benefits of breastmilk continue well through the first and second years.

What if I don’t breastfeed?

Breastfeeding is not always a possibility, whether you’re not able to or choose not to.

Some parents need or choose to provide donor milk to their babies through safe, established human milk banks, such as Human Milk Banking Association of North America (HMBANA). Other women opt for formula feeding. No matter which way you feed your little one, making sure your little one is well-fed and developing appropriately is the priority.

Speak to a Happy Expert who can help guide and support you in making the best feeding plan for you and your family.

Read about: When you Can’t Breastfeed: How to Dry Up Your Breastmilk Supply

Let’s Chat!

We know parenting often means sleepless nights, stressful days, and countless questions and confusion, and we want to support you in your feeding journey and beyond.

Our Happy Experts are a team of lactation consultants and registered dietitians certified in infant and maternal nutrition – and they’re all moms, too, which means they’ve been there and seen that. They’re here to help on our free, live chat platform Monday - Friday 8am-6pm (ET). Chat Now!

Read more about the experts who help write our content!

For more on this topic, check out the following articles

Top Tips for Pumping Breastmilk

6 Breastfeeding Positions for You and Your Baby

What to do ab out Sore Nipples While Breastfeeding