Why is it Important to Breastfeed?
Contraindications and Precautions to Breastfeeding Why is it Important to Breastfeed?

Why is it Important to Breastfeed?

Two systems compensate for the immature immune system of the newborn: placental transfer of maternal antibodies and the transmission of many immunoprotective and immunomodulating factors through breastfeeding. While the effects of placental transfer wane by six months of age, the delivery of immune support and maturation from breastmilk is available to the child the entire time he is breastfed. The benefits appear to last even beyond the age of weaning.

The American Academy of Pediatrics1, the American Academy of Family Physicians2, and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology3, all affirm that breastfeeding is protective of many diseases for the infant and mother. The health outcomes for infants and mothers ought to be measured using breastfeeding as the physiologic norm. The health risks for formula-fed infants compared to breastfeeding infants include4 an increased risk of diarrhea; 100% increased risk of otitis media; leukemia; 250% higher risk of hospitalization for a lower respiratory infection; 56% increased risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome; obesity; and type 1 and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Infants who are formula fed have a higher risk for dental malocclusion, and higher risk of a lower IQ. Premature infants who are formula fed have a substantially increased risk for necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC). The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the use of banked donor human milk in the neonatal intensive care unit when sufficient mothers’ milk is not available to decrease the risk of NEC5.

For maternal outcomes, a history of lactation is associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes6,7, hypertension8,9, stroke10, metabolic syndrome11,12 and visceral body fat13. At least 7-12 months of lactation was found to reduce myocardial infarction risk in a large prospective cohort, and this association persisted after controlling for multiple lifestyle factors14. Women who do not breastfeed have a higher risk of breast15,16,17 and ovarian cancer18,19.

It has been estimated that if 90% of infants in the US were breastfed according to medical recommendations, 3,340 annual excess deaths would be prevented, 78% of which are maternal due to myocardial infarction (n = 986), breast cancer (n = 838), and diabetes (n = 473). Excess pediatric deaths total 721, mostly due to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (n = 492) and necrotizing enterocolitis (n = 190). Medical costs total $3.0 billion, 79% of which are maternal. Costs of premature death total $14.2 billion20,21.

In addition to the health benefits, breastmilk is always the right temperature, needs no mixing, is ready when infant is, and it’s free. It is species-specific and changes in composition for the age of the child. Mother’s milk supply will adjust to the infant’s needs. For example, bioactive proteins increase in breastmilk when an infant has an upper respiratory infection22. Mom doesn’t need to carry bottles, bags, and ice packs to go out. Families with breastfed children save money and create less waste for the environment23.




  1. American Academy of Pediatrics Section on Breastfeeding. Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 2012;129(3):e827-e841. (2012) http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/129/3/e827.full
  2. American Academy of Family Physicians Breastfeeding, Family Physicians Supporting (Position Paper). https://www.aafp.org/about/policies/all/breastfeeding-support.html (accessed 12/9/19)
  3. American College of OB/Gyn Committee Opinion 658  Optimizing Support for Breastfeeding as Part of Obstetric Practice  Feb 2016 Obstet Gynceol 2016; 127 e86-92
  4. Victora CG, Bahl R, Barros AJD, et al. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. Lancet. 2016;387(10017):475-490.
  5. AAP Committee on Nutrition, AAP Section on Breastfeeding, AAP Committee on Fetus and Newborn Donor Human Milk for the High-Risk Infant: Preparation, Safety, and Usage Options in the United States Pediatrics 2017; 139(1)
  6. Gunderson EP, Jacobs DR Jr, Chiang V, Lewis CE, Feng J, Quesenberry CP Jr, Sidney S. Duration of Lactation and Incidence of the Metabolic Syndrome in Women of Reproductive Age According to Gestational Diabetes Mellitus Status: A 20-year Prospective Study in CARDIA- The Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults Study. Diabetes 2010;59(2):495-504
  7. Horta B, Vicoria C. Long-term effects of breastfeeding: A systematic review. World Health Organization. 2013. https://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/documents/breastfeeding_long_term_effects/en/
  8. Stuebe AM, Schwarz EB, Grewen K, Rich-Edwards JW, Michels KB, E. Foster M, Curhan G, Forman J  Duration of Lactation and Incidence of Maternal Hypertension: A Longitudinal Cohort Study. Am J Epidemiol; 174(10) (2011)
  9. Bonifacino E, Schwartz EB, Jun H, Wessel CB, Corbelli JA. Effect of Lactation on Maternal Hypertension: A Systematic Review Breastfeeding Med 2018 Nov;13(9) 578-588
  10. Jacobson LT, Hade EM, Collins TC, et al Breastfeeding History and Risk of Stroke Among Parous Postmenopausal Women in the Women’s Health Initiative J Am Heart Assoc. 2018;7:e008739. DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.118.008739.
  11. Yu J, Pudwell J, ayan N, Smith GN Postpartum Breastfeeding and Cardiovascular Risk Assessment in Women Following Pregnancy Complications J Women’s Health 2019 Dec 3
  12. Stuebe AM, Kleinman K, Gillman MW, Rifas-Shiman SL, Gunderson EP, Rich-Edwards J. (2010) Duration of lactation and maternal metabolism at 3 years postpartum. J Womens Health (Larchmt). 19(5):941-50.
  13. McClure CK, Schwarz EB, Conroy MB, Tepper PG, Janssen I, Sutton-Tyrrell K. Breastfeeding and subsequent maternal visceral adiposity. Obesity (Silver Spring). 2011;19(11):2205-2213.
  14. Schwarz EB, Ray RM, Stuebe AM, et al. Duration of lactation and risk factors for maternal cardiovascular disease. Obstet Gynecol. 2009;113(5):974-982
  15. Faupel-Badger J, Arcaro KE, Balkam JJ, et al. Postpartum remodeling, lactation, and breast cancer risk: Summary of a national cancer institute-sponsored workshop. J Natl Cancer Inst. 2013(3):166
  16. Islami F, Liu Y, Jemal A, Zhou J, Weiderpass E, Colditz G, Boffetta P, Weiss M. Breastfeeding and breast cancer risk by receptor status–a systematic review and meta-analysis.   Ann Oncol. 2015;26(12):2398.
  17. Kotsopoulos J, Lubinski J, Salmena L, et al. Breastfeeding and the risk of breast cancer in BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation carriers. Breast Cancer Res. 2012;14(2):R42-R42.
  18. Momenimovahed Z, Tiznobaik A, et al Ovarian cancer in the world: epidemiology and risk factors International J of Women’s Health 2019: 11 287-299
  19. Kotsopoulos J, Lubinski J, Gronwald J, Cybulski C, et al Factors Influencing Ovulation and the Risk of Ovarian Cancer in BRCA1 and BRCA2 Mutation Carriers Int J Cancer. 2015 September 1; 137(5) 1136-1146
  20. Bartick M, Reinhold A. (2009) The Burden of Suboptimal Breastfeeding in the United States: A Pediatric Cost Analysis. Pediatrics. http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/early/2010/04/05/peds.2009-1616.full.pdf+html
  21. Bartick MC, Stuebe AM, Schwarz EB, Luongo C, Reinhold AG, Foster EM. Cost analysis of maternal disease associated with suboptimal breastfeeding. Obstet Gynecol. 2013.
  22. Riskin A, Almog M, Peri R, Halasz K et al Changes in immunomodulatory constituents of human milk in response to active infection in the nursing infant Pediatric Res Vol 71(2) Feb 2012, p. 220- 2225
  23. Linnecar A, Gupta A, Dadhich J, Bidla N. Formula for disaster: Weighing the impact of formula feeding vs breastfeeding on environment. BPNI/IBFAN Asia, 2014. http://www.gifa.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/01/FormulaForDisaster.pdf Accessed 1/19/20