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The Benefits of Breastfeeding


By Sarah Musselman, RN, BSN, IBCLC, OSF St. Joseph Medical Center

In the midst of cold and flu season, everyone is stocking up on tissues, chicken soup, and hot tea. But did you know there is a natural remedy readily available to babies everywhere? Research shows breastfeeding is the single best action by which a mother can positively impact the present and future health of her baby.

Benefits for Baby
Babies are born with immature immune systems, which are not fully functioning until nearly two years of age. However, a mother’s very first milk, called colostrum, passes antibodies and immunities to the baby. According to the American Dietetic Association, these antibodies and immunities give the baby the best chance of developing a strong immune system. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for six months, with a continuation of breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced for one year.

A mother’s breast milk also has the perfect combination of proteins, fats, vitamins, and carbohydrates, changing to meet the baby’s growth and developmental needs. Breast milk also provides complete nutrition for healthy brain development. The brain grows 175 percent during the first year, making it a very critical time for brain development.

Breast milk has antimicrobial, antibiotic, and anti-inflammatory properties, which increases a baby’s resistance to infections, especially upper respiratory infections. Babies who are breastfed have fewer allergies, less stomach upset, higher IQ’s, and a decreased chance of acquiring SIDS. These are just a few of the amazing breastfeeding properties formula companies cannot replicate.

Benefits for Mom
Breastfeeding has numerous benefits for mom. Psychologically, it is an incredibly empowering experience and instills confidence in a woman’s maternal skills. Breastfeeding also helps shrink the uterus back to pre-pregnancy state; decreases bleeding; and decreases the risk of developing pre-menopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and osteoporosis.

According to the American Dietetic Association, breastfeeding may help women regain their pre-baby figure. Some studies have shown breastfeeding women experience greater weight loss than those who do not breast feed.

Another bonus of breastfeeding is its ability to save time and keep your bank account abundant while you adjust to the costs of having a newborn. An estimated $13 billion is spent annually in the United States on infant formula. Breast milk is free and ready to feed. It does not require measuring, mixing, or warming.

A woman who has chosen to breastfeed will require assistance and support at every step of the breastfeeding process. We need to have a coordinated system of care to help mothers achieve their goals. 

Baby Friendly
The Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative (BFHI) is a global program launched by the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) in 1991 to encourage and recognize hospitals and birthing centers that offer an optimal level of care for infant feeding and mother/baby bonding. The BFHI assists hospitals in giving all mothers the information, confidence, and skills necessary to successfully initiate and continue breastfeeding their babies or feeding formula safely, and gives special recognition to hospitals that have done so.

Parents have the ability to maximize their baby’s health and quality of life from infancy to childhood and into their adult life through breastfeeding. It is empowering, inexpensive, enjoyable, and much less work than bottle feeding a baby. Breastfeeding is an important public health goal, and we should all take on a commitment to enable mothers to breastfeed their babies.  Always remember “Breast is best!”

OSF St. Joseph Medical Center has started the journey to become designated as a Baby-Friendly hospital. For more information about the Birthing Center at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center, please visit

Sarah Musselman, RN, BSN, is an International board-certified lactation consultant at OSF St. Joseph Medical Center. She works one-on-one with moms, giving them the support they need to successfully breastfeed their babies. If you have any questions about breastfeeding, please contact Sarah at 309-665-4704.

Photo credit: CEFutcher /iStock