bf protects babies

Breastfeeding Protects Babies

1. Early breast milk is liquid gold.

Known as liquid gold, colostrum is the thick yellow first breast milk that you make during pregnancy and just after birth. This milk is rich in nutrients and antibodies to protect your baby. Although your baby only gets a small amount of colostrum at each feeding, it matches the amount his or her tiny stomach can hold. 

2. Your breast milk changes as your baby grows. 

Colostrum changes into what is called mature milk. By the third to fifth day after birth, this mature breast milk has just the right amount of fat, sugar, water, and protein to help your baby continue to grow. It is a thinner type of milk than colostrum, but it provides all of the nutrients and antibodies your baby needs.

3. Breast milk is easier to digest.

For most babies, especially premature babies, breast milk is easier to digest than formula. The proteins in formula are made from cow's milk, and it takes time for babies' stomachs to adjust to digesting them.

4. Breast milk fights disease.

The hormones and antibodies in breast milk protect babies from illness. Breastfeeding also can lower the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This protection is unique; formula cannot match the chemical makeup of human breast milk.

Among formula-fed babies, ear infections and diarrhea are more common. Formula-fed babies also have higher risks of:

  • Necrotizing enterocolitis, a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in
    pre-term infants
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Atopic dermatitis, a type of skin rash
  • Asthma
  • Obesity
  • Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
  • Childhood leukemia
Formula feeding can raise health risks in babies, but there are cases in which formula may be a necessary alternative. Very rarely, babies are born unable to tolerate milk of any kind. These babies must have soy or another type of special formula.

Formula also may be needed if the mother has certain health conditions and she does not have access to donor breast milk.

Breastfeeding saves lives during an emergency. When an emergency occurs, breastfeeding can save lives:

  • Breastfeeding protects babies from the risks of a contaminated water supply.
  • Breastfeeding can help protect against respiratory illnesses and diarrhea. These diseases can be fatal in populations displaced by disaster.
  • Breast milk is the right temperature for babies, and closeness to the mother's body during breastfeeding helps to prevent hypothermia when the body temperature drops too low.
  • Breast milk is readily available without the need for other supplies.

Updated July 27, 2021