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Benefits of Breastfeeding – 9.385   arrow

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by L. Bellows, R. Moore, J. Hunley, A. Reeder, and A. Clark* (10/13)

Quick Facts…

  • Breastfeeding is internationally recognized as the best method for feeding infants and has numerous benefits for babies, families and society alike.
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusively breastfeeding for 6 months, followed by breastfeeding alongside complementary foods until the infant is at least 12 months of age.
  • Breast milk contains antibodies and nutrients that are perfectly suited for infant growth and development.
  • The majority of mothers make healthy breast milk, even if their diet does not always include nutritious foods.
  • Breastfeeding is a way in which mothers and infants can bond physically and emotionally throughout the day.

Deciding to Breastfeed

Breastfeeding is regarded as the optimal feeding method for infants. In fact, infants who breastfeed have a decreased risk for ear infections, allergies, as well as gastrointestinal and respiratory infections. Breastfeeding is also associated with a lowered risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), which is the leading cause of infant deaths (after 1 month of age) in the United States. Research has demonstrated that children who were breastfed as infants also have a lowered risk for chronic conditions such as obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, asthma, and leukemia. Additionally, mothers who breastfeed have a lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and postpartum depression. Since many health outcomes are affected by the duration of breastfeeding, the longer a mother can breastfeed her infant (after 6 months of age) the healthier both mother and infant will be.


The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed their infants for 6 months. Upon addition of complementary foods to an infant’s diet, mothers should continue to breastfeed until their infants are at least 12 months old. Even with this recommendation, during 2011 approximately 80 percent of Colorado infants had ever breastfed; however, only 24 percent of Colorado infants were breastfed exclusively for 6 months.

Baby breastfeeding

Breast Milk is Best


Breast milk inherently meets the majority of the nutrition needs of infants. Early breast milk, also known as colostrum, is especially rich in antibodies that aid in the protection of infants from infections immediately following birth. Mature breast milk, expressed approximately 3 to 5 days after birth, has the right balance of protein, carbohydrates, fat, and water, to promote healthy infant growth and development. In addition to breast milk, it is also important to supplement an infant’s diet with 400 IU of vitamin D daily, beginning shortly after birth. This recommendation is the same for formula fed infants as well.


Current estimates place the cost of 12 months of formula feeding at approximately $1,500. Breast milk is free, as it does not require purchasing infant formula. Additionally, infants who breastfeed are generally healthier than those who formula feed, which can translate to lower individual and societal healthcare costs.

Public and Environmental Impact

Breastfeeding has numerous benefits to society. Research has demonstrated that if 90 percent of American families exclusively breastfed their infants for at least 6 months in duration, approximately 1,000 infant deaths could be prevented each year. Breastfeeding also lowers the amount of time parents must spend away from work because breastfed infants are generally less sick than formula fed infants. Finally, breastfeeding is better for the environment, as it does not produce as much waste, from plastic bottles and packaging, as formula feeding does.

Developing Strong, Healthy Families

Breastfeeding is a way for mothers and infants to take time throughout the day to connect emotionally and physically. Research demonstrates that skin-to-skin contact from breastfeeding can help infants feel warm, comforted, and safe, in addition to promoting a strong mother-infant bond. Research has also demonstrated that this strong mother-infant bond may translate into improved brain development among children who were breastfed as infants. Additional research suggests that the biochemical components of breast milk, including both hormones and fatty acids (DHA and EPA), may also play a role in healthy brain development and infant attachment.

Maternal Diet during Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding mothers have an increased energy requirement of 450-500 calories per day. This need can be met with small increases in food consumption from a well-balanced, healthy diet. Although some professionals recommend the continued use of pre-natal supplements during lactation, for most individuals there is usually no need to continue. However, to ensure adequate concentration of the important fatty acid DHA, a daily intake of 200-300 milligrams of omega-3 fatty acids is recommended (generally 1 or 2 servings of fish per week can meet this requirement). For mothers who do not get enough DHA from food or who are vegan, a DHA supplement and multivitamin may be necessary (discuss with your health care provider).

Strategies to Increase Breastfeeding Duration

Breastfeeding an infant can be a very rewarding experience. Unfortunately, one of the most significant barriers to continuing to breastfeed is the mother’s return to work or school after giving birth. Transitioning back to work after maternity leave can be challenging; however, many working mothers can continue to feed their infants’ breast milk to meet the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendations.

  • One means for increasing breastfeeding duration among working mothers and their infants is to pump breast milk at work and store it for later use. It is important for women to communicate their breastfeeding needs to their supervisors prior to returning from maternity leave. In this way, employers can best support breastfeeding women. Colorado law requires workplaces to provide breastfeeding women breaks during the day to pump milk, as well as private space for pumping.
  • It is also important to find a child care center that is receptive to the notion of providing breast milk to the infants for whom they care. Ensuring that a child care center is versed on the importance of breastfeeding and practical aspects of breastfeeding (such as breast milk storage and safety) is crucial to guaranteeing continued breastfeeding duration upon the mother’s return to the workforce. This may include the child care facility feeding the previously pumped milk or mid-day visits from mom to nurse the baby.
  • Properly storing breast milk is important to ensure that infants have continued access to breast milk that is safe. Breast milk can be safely refrigerated (at lower than 40 F) for 3 to 7 days. Breast milk can also be frozen for up to 12 months (although freezing breast milk for longer than 6 months is not recommended). Breast milk can be stored at room temperature for approximately 4 to 6 hours.

Common Concerns

Breastfeeding is the best choice for an infant, but some women may experience concerns during breastfeeding. In most cases one should not stop breastfeeding even if any of these concerns arise as continuing to breastfeed may actually help improve these conditions. Meet with your health care provider or lactation consultant with any concerns involving the following conditions:

  • Sore nipples: Mothers may experience tender nipples if the infant is in a poor feeding position or is not properly latched-on to the breast.
    Helpful Tips: Try to form a good latch or change positions often when breastfeeding. Avoid wearing tight clothing or bras, as well as using products with harsh chemicals. If you are delaying feedings or using creams or shells/shields, it is important to get advice from a lactation consultant.
  • Low milk supply: Breastfeeding mothers can be concerned about having enough milk for their infants. At times it may seem like your infant wants to nurse for longer (for example during a growth spurt) or shorter periods of time, or your breasts may not feel full (breasts do not need to feel full to have enough milk). These are common feelings during breastfeeding and do not necessarily indicate that your infant is not receiving enough milk.
    Helpful Tips: Following an infant’s lead, nursing more often, rest, good nutrition, and proper fluid intake, will each help build milk supply. Offer both breasts at each feeding. Avoid giving your baby formula or cereal because it may decrease interest in breast milk. Check your infant’s weight and growth regularly, or let your health care provider or lactation consultant know that you are concerned that your infant may not be receiving enough milk.
  • Oversupply of milk: Some mothers experience milk production in excess, which can lead to uncomfortable feedings for mother and infant.
    Helpful Tips: Breastfeed on one side for each feeding, and increase the time of each feeding. If pressure is felt in the breast, express the milk for a few moments and use a cold compress to decrease swelling. Feed your infant before he or she is hungry, which can prevent aggressive suckling.
  • Plugged milk duct: A plugged duct is an inflamed duct that has not properly drained. This condition happens to most women at some point during breastfeeding, especially if a mother skips feedings. With this condition, the breast may feel tender and a lump could be present.
    Helpful Tips: Breastfeeding will often help to keep the milk moving freely. A gentle massage, warm compress, wearing a bra that is not too tight, or sleeping with your feet up, may help in healing.
  • Breast infection: Symptoms of an infection are very similar to a plugged milk duct, and include inflammation, tenderness, and a lump in the breast. Breast infections are not as common as a plugged duct. Breast infections that do not improve within 24 to 48 hours should be treated with medicine.
    Helpful Tips: Mother should contact her health care provider if this lasts longer than 24 hours, if she has a fever and if she experiences flu-like symptoms. Breastfeeding will often help to keep the milk moving freely. A gentle massage, warm compress, wearing a bra that is not too tight, or sleeping with your feet up, may help in healing.
  • Fungal infection: A fungal infection (also known as yeast infection or thrush) may form on nipples or within the breast—the bacteria live off of milk that is produced. Usually the organism is present in the body at healthy levels, but can grow out of control when the body becomes out of balance. Sore, pink, flaky, shiny, itchy, or cracked nipples are a sure sign of a fungal infection. Your infant can also show signs of infection with white spots on the inside of the mouth, refusal to nurse, or cranky behavior.
    Helpful Tips: Keep nursing items clean (nursing pads, towels, clothing, pacifiers, nipples, breast pump). Always wash or boil these items in very hot water (above 122 F). Call your health care provider if you or your infant has signs of a fungal infection.
  • Refusal to breastfeed: The way that your infant breastfeeds will change from day to day. If your infant suddenly refuses to breastfeed or becomes fussy during feedings, it may mean that something is wrong. Many factors can lead to an infant refusing to feed: fungal infections, ear infections, pain from a certain position, change in normal routine, distraction while feeding, cold or stuffy nose, reduced milk supply, others arguing while feeding, or stress. When milk builds up from lack of feeding, it may become uncomfortable for the mother.
    Helpful Tips: Try to stay on the same schedule as your infant, and feed when he or she is hungry. Experiment with another type of feeding method such as a cup, dropper, or spoon. Check your infant’s diapers frequently to make sure he or she is getting enough milk. Stay persistent while attempting to breastfeed your infant. Try different feeding positions like rocking back and forth in a quiet room with no distractions. Focus your attention on your infant, and comfort him or her with touch. If you are concerned, it is best to contact your health care provider.
  • Special circumstances: Breast milk is still the best option for infants with health problems (e.g. premature, cleft lip, reflux disease, jaundice), as well as for twins and triplets. Sometimes special modifications must be made, such as pumping breast milk and then feeding the infant from the bottle. A lactation consultant can be helpful to discuss your unique breastfeeding needs with during and after your hospital stay.

Additional Resources

Colorado Breastfeeding Coalition provides resources in support of their mission: To ensure optimal health and development of all Colorado families by fostering a society-wide approach to breastfeeding. Visit their website at

La Leche League International’s mission is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother. Visit their website ( to get breastfeeding help, learn about breastfeeding and the law, and find resources.


Breast milk continues to be regarded as the best form of infant nutrition. Breastfeeding also has numerous benefits for families and society alike, making it the best possible means for feeding infants. Despite the knowledge that breastfeeding is a superior means of feeding infants, the majority of infants in the United States are not breastfed exclusively for 6 months and up to or greater than 12 months with complementary foods, per the American Academy of Pediatrics recommendation. A challenge for some mothers is when they return to work or school, but there are many established programs at the state and national level that can assist mothers in being successful. An important way in which mothers can continue to feed their infants breast milk and work concurrently is to pump their breast milk and store it for later use. Mothers are also encouraged to continue breastfeeding through the challenges such as breast infections and plugged milk ducts, since breastfeeding still the best option for both mothers and infants.


American Academy of Family Physicians (2003). Information from Your Family Doctor: Returned to Work While Breastfeeding. American Family Physician, 68(11), 2215-2217.

Brown, A., Raynor, P., & Lee, M. (2011) Healthcare Professionals’ and mothers’ perceptions of factors that influence decisions to breastfeed of formula feed infants: a comprehensive study. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 67(9), 1993-2003.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2011). Breastfeeding Report Card 2011, United States: Process Indicators [Data file]. Retrieved from

Meedya, S., Fahy, K., & Kable, A. (2010) Factors that positively influence breastfeeding duration at 6 months: A literature review. Women and Birth, 23, 135-251.

Ryan, A.S., Wenjun, Z., & Arensberg, M.B. (2006) The Effect of Employment Status on Breastfeeding in the United States. Women’s Health Issues, 16, 243-251.

Smith, J.P. & Ellwood, M. (2011) Feeding Patterns and Emotional Care in Breastfed Infants. Social Indicators Research, 101, 227-231.

US Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2010). Frequently Asked Questions: Breastfeeding. Retrieved from

US Department of Health and Human Services, Office on Women’s Health. (2010). Breastfeeding: Common breastfeeding challenges. Retrieved from

*L. Bellows, Colorado State University Extension food and nutrition specialist and assistant professor; R. Moore, J. Hunley, and A. Reeder, graduate students; and A. Clark, associate professor, University of Northern Colorado. 10/13.

CSU Extension programs are available to all without discrimination. No endorsement of products mentioned is intended nor is criticism implied of products not mentioned

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