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Health outcomes associated with infant feeding

It has long been known that breastfeeding is valuable when it comes to health outcomes for babies and their mothers.

Breastfeeding is the biologically normal way to feed babies. Normal, however, does not always mean the most common way to feed babies. Any other way of feeding a baby, and the subsequent change in health outcomes, has to be compared to breastfeeding. What this means is, there are no ‘benefits’ of breastfeeding, rather there are risks of not breastfeeding.

When it comes to health outcomes associated with infant feeding, the longer the total duration of breastfeeding and the longer the period of exclusive breastfeeding within the first 6 months, the lower the risks.

Health outcomes

The following are health outcomes associated with infant feeding for which there is convincing scientific evidence. This list includes results from studies where all types of breastfeeding (including partial breastfeeding), not just exclusive breastfeeding, are included. For all of the following, there is a dose-response relationship between breastfeeding and the health outcome, meaning that the less breastfeeding that occurs, the higher the risks.

For the child not being breastfed, or being breastfed for shorter lengths of time, increases the risk of:

  • SIDS
  • gastrointestinal infections
  • respiratory infections
  • ear infections
  • necrotising enterocolitis in premature babies
  • sepsis in premature babies
  • dental malocclusions
  • overweight and obesity
  • lower IQ
  • leukaemia

For the mother, not breastfeeding increases the risk of:

  • breast cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure


Amitay, E. L., & Keinan-Boker, L. (2015). Breastfeeding and childhood leukemia incidence: A meta-analysis and systematic review. JAMA Pediatrics, 169(6). 

Babic, A., Sasamoto, N., Rosner, B. A., Tworoger, S. S., Jordan, S. J., Risch, H. A., Harris, H. R., Rossing, M. A., Doherty, J. A., Fortner, R. T., Chang-Claude, J., Goodman, M. T., Thompson, P. J., Moysich, K. B., Ness, R. B., Kjaer, S. K., Jensen, A., Schildkraut, J. M., Titus, L. J., … Terry, K. L. (2020). Association between breastfeeding and ovarian cancer risk. JAMA Oncology, 6(6), e200421–e200421. 

Bowatte, G., Tham, R., Allen, K. J., Tan, D. J., Lau, M. X. Z., Dai, X., & Lodge, C. J. (2015). Breastfeeding and childhood acute otitis media: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatrica, 104(S467), 85–95. 

Brodribb, W. (Ed.). (2019). The importance of breastfeeding. In Breastfeeding Management in Australia (5th ed., pp. 18–57). Australian Breastfeeding Association. 

Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. (2002). Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50302 women with breast cancer and 96973 women without the disease. The Lancet, 360(9328), 187–195. 

Doğramacı, E. J., Rossi-Fedele, G., & Dreyer, C. W. (2017). Malocclusions in young children: Does breast-feeding really reduce the risk? A systematic review and meta-analysis. The Journal of the American Dental Association, 148(8), 566-574.e6. 

Duijts, L., Jaddoe, V. W. v, Hofman, A., & Moll, H. A. (2010). Prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding reduces the risk of infectious diseases in infancy. Pediatrics, 126(1), e18–e25. 

Duijts, L., Ramadhani, M. K., & Moll, H. A. (2009). Breastfeeding protects against infectious diseases during infancy in industrialized countries. A systematic review. Maternal & Child Nutrition, 5(3), 199–210. 

Güngör, D., Nadaud, P., Dreibelbis, C., LaPergola, C. C., Wong, Y. P., Terry, N., Abrams, S. A., Beker, L., Jacobovits, T., Järvinen, K. M., Nommsen-Rivers, L. A., O’Brien, K. O., Oken, E., Pérez-Escamilla, R., Ziegler, E. E., & Spahn, J. M. (2019). Infant milk-feeding practices and childhood leukemia: A systematic review. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, 109(Suppl. 7), 757S-771S. 

Hauck, F. R., Thompson, J. M. D., Tanabe, K. O., Moon, R. Y., & Vennemann, M. M. (2011). Breastfeeding and reduced risk of sudden infant death syndrome: A meta-analysis. In Pediatrics (Vol. 128, Issue 1). 

Horta, B. L., & de Lima, N. P. (2019). Breastfeeding and type 2 diabetes: Systematic review and meta-analysis. Current Diabetes Reports, 19(1), 1. 

Horta, B. L., Loret De Mola, C., & Victora, C. G. (2015a). Breastfeeding and intelligence: A systematic review and meta-analysis. In Acta Paediatrica, International Journal of Paediatrics (Vol. 104). (Free full text available) 

Horta, B. L., Loret De Mola, C., & Victora, C. G. (2015b). Long-term consequences of breastfeeding on cholesterol, obesity, systolic blood pressure and type 2 diabetes: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatrica, 104, 30–37. 

Kramer, M. S., Aboud, F., Mironova, E., Vanilovich, I., Platt, R. W., Matush, L., Igumnov, S., Fombonne, E., Bogdanovich, N., Ducruet, T., Collet, J.-P., Chalmers, B., Hodnett, E., Davidovsky, S., Skugarevsky, O., Trofimovich, O., Kozlova, L., Shapiro, S., & Group, P. of B. I. T. (PROBIT) S. (2008). Breastfeeding and child cognitive development: New evidence from a large randomized trial. Archives of General Psychiatry, 65(5), 578–584. 

Miller, J., Tonkin, E., Damarell, R. A., McPhee, A. J., Suganuma, M., Suganuma, H., Middleton, P. F., Makrides, M., & Collins, C. T. (2018). A systematic review and meta-analysis of human milk feeding and morbidity in very low birth weight infants. Nutrients, 10(6), 707. 

Rameez, R. M., Sadana, D., Kaur, S., Ahmed, T., Patel, J., Khan, M. S., Misbah, S., Simonson, M. T., Riaz, H., & Ahmed, H. M. (2019). Association of maternal lactation with diabetes and hypertension: A systematic review and meta-analysis. JAMA Network Open, 2(10), e1913401–e1913401. 

Su, Q., Sun, X., Zhu, L., Yan, Q., Zheng, P., Mao, Y., & Ye, D. (2021). Breastfeeding and the risk of childhood cancer: A systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis. BMC Medicine, 19(1). 

Thompson, J. M. D., Tanabe, K., Moon, R. Y., Mitchell, E. A., McGarvey, C., Tappin, D., Blair, P. S., & Hauck, F. R. (2017). Duration of breastfeeding and risk of SIDS: An individual participant data meta-analysis. Pediatrics, 140(5), e20171324. 

Unar-Munguía, M., Torres-Mejía, G., Colchero, M. A., & González de Cosío, T. (2017). Breastfeeding mode and risk of breast cancer: A dose–response meta-analysis. Journal of Human Lactation, 33(2), 422–434. 

Victora, C. G., Bahl, R., Barros, A. J. D., França, G. V. A., Horton, S., Krasevec, J., Murch, S., Sankar, M. J., Walker, N., Rollins, N. C., Allen, K., Dharmage, S., Lodge, C., Peres, K. G., Bhandari, N., Chowdhury, R., Sinha, B., Taneja, S., Giugliani, E., … Richter, L. (2016). Breastfeeding in the 21st century: Epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect. The Lancet, 387(10017).  

World Health Organization. Health topics: Breastfeeding (accessed 04/05/2022)

World Health Organization & United Nations Children’s Fund (‎UNICEF). (2003). Global strategy for infant and young child feeding.

Yan, J., Liu, L., Zhu, Y., Huang, G., & Wang, P. P. (2014). The association between breastfeeding and childhood obesity: a meta-analysis. BMC Public Health, 14(1), 1267.

© Australian Breastfeeding Association July 2020




Last reviewed: 
Jan 2022