According to a 2014 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 40.7 percent of infants were exclusively breast-fed at the age of three months, with this number dropping to 18.8 percent for infants six months of age.(1)
Despite the low rates of exclusive breast-feeding among six-month-old infants, the World Health Organization recommends that infants be exclusively breast-fed for their first six months of life.
As the WHO has explained, breast milk provides infants with all the nutrients and energy they need, and it is associated with health benefits for both mother and baby.
Here, learn more about these benefits with five reasons you should breast-feed your baby.
Breast-feeding can nourish your baby’s developing brain and even increase his or her intelligence.
In 2008, researchers for the journal JAMA Psychiatry studied 13,889 infants and followed up with them when they were 6.5 years old.(2)
They found that infants who were in a breast-feeding group had higher scores on verbal intelligent tests at age 6.5 than did those in a control group.
In addition, teachers rated the breast fed infants higher in both reading and writing ability.
This increased intelligence level could persist into adulthood.
In 2002, researchers for the Journal of the American Medical Association found that even after adjusting for factors such as parental education level, children’s birth weight, and mother’s weight gain during pregnancy, subjects who were breast-fed for longer as infants had higher IQs as adults.(3)
According to study results, those who were breast-fed for less than one month had an average adult IQ of 99.4, whereas individuals who were breast fed for seven to nine months had an IQ of 106.
Children who are breast-fed as infants tend to be at a healthier weight than those who are not breast-fed.
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In a 2001 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association, researchers found that children aged 9 to 14 who were fed mostly or only breast milk as infants were 22 percent less likely to be overweight than were children who were solely or mostly formula-fed.(4)
This reduction in risk existed even after controlling for factors such as;
• calorie intake
• time spent watching television
• and exercise level
Furthermore, study results showed that children who were breast-fed for seven months or more were 20 percent less likely to be overweight than children who were breast-fed for no more than three months.
Additional research has supported the association between breast-feeding and a healthy weight in children.
In a 2005 review in the journal Pediatrics, researchers analyzed the results of 28 studies and found that breast-feeding lowered the risk of childhood obesity by 13 percent.(5)
After controlling for potential contributing factors, such as social status and parents’ weight, breastfeeding was found to lower obesity risk by 7 percent.
Breastfeeding your infant can set him or her up for better mental health functioning down the road.
In 2013, researchers for the journal Child: Care, Health and Development found that breastfeeding during infancy was linked to an improvement in mental well-being at age nine, even after controlling for outside factors.(6)
In 2010, a study in The Journal of Pediatrics showed similar results.(7)
Study authors found that children who were breast-fed for at least six months as infants had fewer mental health and behavioral problems than children who were breast-fed for under six months.
Babies who are breast-fed experience improved respiratory functioning.
In a 2003 report in JAMA Pediatrics, researchers reviewed seven different studies and found that infants who were breast-fed for at least four months were 72 percent less likely to be hospitalized for respiratory diseases than were infants who were never breast fed.(8)
Breast feeding for longer periods can also provide protection against pneumonia.
A 2006 study in Pediatrics found that infants who were breast-fed for six or more months were less likely to develop pneumonia than were infants who were breast-fed for between four and six months.(9)
Benefits for Mother
In addition to the numerous benefits for the child, breastfeeding can protect a mother’s health by helping her to return to a healthy weight after pregnancy.
In 2010, researchers for the Journal of Women’s Health found that women who breast-fed exclusively for more than six months retained less weight at three years post-partum than did women who breast-fed for shorter periods.(10)
Researchers for a 2008 publication of The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition asserted that women could lose all of the weight gained during pregnancy if they breast-fed exclusively for six months.(11)
These researchers also found that women who breast-fed were less likely to retain weight gained during pregnancy.
Because it is linked to weight control for mothers, breastfeeding can play an important role in a woman’s overall health.
It also provides infants with a variety of mental and physical health benefits, many of which persist throughout childhood and into adulthood.
Bring these benefits to your own baby by choosing to breast-feed, if possible.
Be sure to address any questions or concerns with your OBGYN; you may also be able to find a breastfeeding class at your local hospital or clinic.
Researches and references