Breastfeeding is important for many reasons. It has long been known that breastfeeding is important when it comes to health outcomes.
Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed babies. Normal, however, does not always mean the most common way to feed babies, but it does mean that breastfeeding is the biological norm. So, 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.
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:
- gastrointestinal infections
- respiratory infections
- ear infections
- necrotising enterocolitis in premature babies
- sepsis in premature babies
- dental malocclusions
- overweight and obesity
- lower IQ.
For the mother, not breastfeeding increases the risk of:
- breast cancer
- ovarian cancer
- type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure
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© Australian Breastfeeding Association July 2020