It is estimated that more than a million deaths of babies could be prevented globally per year through more widespread breastfeeding. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of respiratory tract infections and diarrhea. This is true both in developing and developed countries. Other benefits include lower risks of asthma, food allergies, celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, and leukemia. Breastfeeding may also improve cognitive development and decrease the risk of obesity in adulthood. Some mothers may feel considerable pressure to breastfeed, but children who are not breastfed grow up normally – without significant harm to their future health.
Health professional recommend that breastfeeding begin within the first hour of a baby’s life and it be allowed as often and as much as the baby wants. During the first few weeks of life babies may nurse eight to twelve times a day (every two to three hours). The duration of a feeding is usually ten to fifteen minutes on each breast. The frequency of feeding decreases as the child gets older. Some mothers pump milk so that it can be used later when their child is being cared for by others. Breastfeeding benefits both mother and baby. Infant formula does not have many of the benefits other than mom comfort.
Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother include less blood loss following delivery, better uterus shrinkage, weight loss, and less postpartum depression. It also increases the time before menstruation and fertility returns, known as lactational amenorrhea. Long term benefits may include a decreased risk of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and rheumatoid arthritis. Breastfeeding is less expensive for the family than infant formula.
Health organizations, including the World Health Organization (WHO), recommend feeding for six months only through breastfeeding. This means that no other foods or drinks other than vitamin D are typically given. Continued partial breastfeeding until at least one to two years of age is then recommended. Globally about 38% of infants are only breastfed during their first six months of life. In the United States, about 75% of women begin breastfeeding and about 13% only breastfeed until the age of six months. Medical conditions that do not allow breastfeeding are uncommon. Mothers who take recreational drugs and certain medications should not breastfeed.