Breastfeeding Offers Protections Far Beyond The Baby Years, Says Science

by Wendy Wisner
Originally Published: 

Most of us are aware of how healthy and incredible breastmilk is for our babies. After all, it’s produced from our own bodies, and is tailor-made for our little ones. And the remarkable thing is that you can breastfeed for one day or one year and still offer huge benefits for your baby. Truly: every drop of breastmilk counts and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.

Let’s start with the basics. Breastfeeding offers newborn antibodies that protect them against illnesses. It loads their digestive system with beneficial bacteria and promotes healthy digestion (this is so important for premature babies, to protect them from necrotizing enterocolitis, which can be deadly). And any amount of breastfeeding protects babies against SIDS.

According to the Academy of American Pediatrics (AAP), breastfeeding reduces the likelihood that a baby will be hospitalized with a respiratory infection, pneumonia, or meningitis. Your baby will be protected against ear infections, GI bugs, and UTIs as well. If your baby is breastfeed for four months, they are less likely to acquire the allergies that run in your family, and are also less likely to exhibit allergic symptoms such as eczema or wheezing.

Pretty cool, right?

But what some of us often forget is that the benefits of breastfeeding last way beyond those baby years. Yep, your big kid, tween, and even teen will benefit from all those sleepless nights you spent bleary-eyed and breastfeeding. (You can tell your teen that the first time they roll their eyes at you; this information will definitely shut them up quick.)

Think of breastfeeding as a long-term investment. You are laying the groundwork for a healthy childhood for you kiddo. (And side-note: this all will be very reassuring when you all your toddler will eat is bread and candy.)

Of course, breastfeeding isn’t the only way to keep your child healthy, but it’s one of the best ways to do so. And goodness knows breastfeeding isn’t always easy, so knowing that all the hard work you are putting into it will keep your kid hearty for years is a damn good motivator, right?

Let’s move onto some of the research. (See those little highlighted hyperlinks? They’re links to published journals, so you can see the source material where all my summaries come from.)

First, according to a recent study published in Pediatrics, breastfeeding during the first three months of life was associated with lower cholesterol rates in teenagers, which also implies that breastfeeding can contribute to overall cardiovascular health as kids grow up. Nice!

Another study, led by the World Health Organization and published in Obesity Facts, showed that breastfeeding decreased a child’s overall risk toward obesity. In fact, the study found that breastfeeding cuts a kid’s propensity toward obesity by up to 25%. Obesity is a growing problem virtually everywhere, any way to decrease your child’s risk is really important.

Other studies found similar health benefits among older kids who were breastfed as babies. Breastfeeding decreased a child’s risk toward serious respiratory viruses throughout childhood, according to a study published in BMJ. A study from JAMA Pediatrics showed that breastfeeding lowers your child’s risk of childhood leukemia by 9%, and that breastfeeding for at least six months lowers a child’s risk of leukemia by 14-20%, which is quite substantial.

JGI/Jamie Grill/Getty

I could go on … and on and on. And keep in mind that new research about these things comes out all the freaking time. It’s almost as though we have only scratched the surface of the endless and enduring benefits of breastfeeding.

For further reference, I love this very long list of breastfeeding benefits from (an awesome website written by a board certified lactation consultant) with links to original research for each list item. It’s one of those things you can go back to in the middle of the night when you’re nursing your baby again, and wondering how you’re going to make it through yet another feeding.

Now, as I said before, breastfeeding isn’t the only way to provide long-term health benefits for your child. You can breastfeed your child for two years but feed them crap and encourage a sedentary lifestyle – or you can breastfeed your child for four days, but feed them wonderfully and encourage a healthy lifestyle. It’s definitely relative to some extent.

However, if you are willing and able to breastfeed (which is understandably not the case for everyone), you doing your child a world a good. You deserve to have and know this information, and to feel supported in your journey. To me, breastfeeding is like wrapping my baby up in a giant hug of sweetness, closeness, and healthy goodness – and it turns out that all that breastmilk sure get a lot of bang for its buck.

So all you beautiful breastfeeding mamas out there, go ahead and give yourself a giant pat on the back for making the sacrifices that you are to get it done. You are amazing.

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