Importance and Health Benefits of Breastfeeding: Supporting Parents
Breastfeeding provides the best start for both the infant and mother. It delivers not only tailored nutrition to the infant, but many other benefits for both.
Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first 6 months of life, and thereafter continue to be breastfed in combination with suitably nutritious complementary foods for up to two years of age or beyond.
Breastfeeding benefits for mother1,2
- Decreases post-partum bleeding and rapid uterine contractions
- Fosters baby bonding through the release of oxytocin
- Heals cracked nipples
- May be protective against breast and ovarian cancer
- May reduce the incidence of osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis in later life
- Is free, making it a cost-efficient way of feeding
- Is convenient – no equipment to sterilise unless expressing
- Is always available, meaning mum can go anywhere at anytime without having to worry
- Helps natural weight loss by burning approximately 500-600 calories a day and speeds up the process of bringing the uterus back to its normal size.
- Delays the return of menstruation
- Motivating for the Mother as she knows that she is giving her infant the very best start in life.
Breastfeeding infants – Research
Research in Ireland3 shows that being breastfed for between 13-25 weeks was associated with a 38% reduction in the risk of obesity at nine years of age, while being breastfed for 26 weeks or more was associated with a 51% reduction in the risk of obesity at nine years of age.
Breastfeeding benefits for infants1,2
- Is easy to digest and provides the perfect balance of carbohydrates, fats, protein, vitamins and minerals
- Supports their immune system as it contains antibodies that protect babies from infections and diseases
- Helps protect against ear infections and gastroenteritis
- Decreased risk of Necrotising Enterocolitis (NEC)
- May reduce risk of overweight and obesity
- May reduce the risk of Coeliac disease and Crohn’s disease
- May reduce the incidence of allergies such as eczema and asthma
- Is key to better health even later life, including lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels and a may reduce likelihood of developing diabetes
- Lowers the risk of heart disease in later life
- Reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (cot death) and childhood cancers
- Increases his/her intelligence quotient (IQ) – breastfeeding for six months can make big differences to IQ
- Fosters dental health as breastfed babies have straighter teeth and there is less incidence of dental caries
- Food Safety Authority (2011). Scientific Recommendations for a National Infant Feeding Policy, 2nd Edition.
- Department of Health and Children (2005). Breastfeeding in Ireland. A five-year strategic action plan.
- Cathal, M.C. and Layte, D.R., Breastfeeding and risk of overweight and obesity at nine years of age, Social Science & Medicine (2012)