There is no question that — whenever possible — breastfeeding is one of the best things you can do for your baby.
Late in pregnancy, your body produces a substance called colostrum, which is a very concentrated form of breast milk that is high in protein. Colostrum helps your newborn develop a healthy immune system by providing antibodies and immunoglobulins to give your newborn everything needed in those first few days of life.
Within a few days, your body will stop producing colostrum and switch to normal breast milk. Breast milk has been designed by nature as baby’s perfect food. It contains fats and proteins that are easy on the developing digestive system, and its nutritional content even changes to meet your growing baby’s needs. It serves as a natural laxative that helps prevent constipation and prevents babies from overfeeding, which reduces the risk that your baby will gain too much weight.
Finally, breast milk helps protect your baby from disease by supplying antibodies from your body that bolster your baby’s developing immune system. Allergies to breast milk are exceptionally rare, in contrast to allergies to the cow’s milk in formula.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed for at least 12 months, and even longer if circumstances allow. The World Health Organization goes one step further and recommends that breastfeeding continue for two full years, which can benefit children in the developing world.
Breastfed infants make the most of their nutritional start in life. Many studies have shown strong evidence that breastfeeding improves a baby’s overall cognitive development. The benefits of breastfeeding have been shown to extend far into life, including reduced risk for:
- Juvenile diabetes
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Multiple sclerosis
- Heart disease
- Cancer before the age of 15
Many parents may consider switching their baby to formula sooner than the recommended 12 months, but keep in mind that your breast milk is your baby’s best nutrition.
Reviewed by Sara Connolly, March 2020
- In the first few days of life, your body produces colostrum—breast milk that is especially high in protein and antibodies. This helps build your baby’s immune system.
- Breast milk contains everything your baby needs until the introduction of solid foods.
- Breast milk supports your baby’s healthy immune system and cognitive development and reduces the risk of many diseases later in life.
- Breastfeeding should continue through the first year of life, and even longer if both mother and baby are willing.