Benefits of Breastfeeding

We had our youngest member of Birmingham Direct Primary Care at just 5 days old earlier this week. As a family medicine physician, I love seeing newborns. Yes, of course, they are cute. Moreover, I get to be their physician as they grow older and meet their milestones, become toddlers, then school aged children, then tenaagers and finally adults. It always makes me so happy when I hear a mother say they are exclusively breastfeeding their baby. With August being national awareness month for breastfeeding, this seemed like a perfect time to talk about the many benefits of breastfeeding!

The breast milk is a very nutritious supply for the newborn baby. It is full of nutrients as well as key enzymes and proteins that decrease babies’ risks for infections as well as some future potential chronic medical conditions.

Breastfeeding protects against acute illnesses such as infections of the gut, (including serious diseases like necrotizing enterocolitis), urinary tract, lower respiratory tract and ears. It also helps promote the baby’s healthy gut bacteria- similar to probiotics. The gut functions better with such essential nutrients coming from the breast milk. There is better digestive movement and function and less infectious diarrhea.

Going from bottom up, benefits persist in the urinary tract as less urinary tract infections are seen. By increasing immunity, breast milk also increases protection in the lungs and causes significant reduction in risk of lower respiratory diseases such as pneumonia. It significantly decreases their risk of hospitalization from infections and decreases the risk of sepsis. Breast milk fed babies also experience a reduced rate of ear infections in the first two years. It also allows the optimal neurologic development of the growing baby. While any breastfeeding decreases rate of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), exclusive breastfeeding provides the greatest reduction in risk of SIDS.

The protection isn’t only in acute illnesses during the feeding. Often the protection against illnesses and medical conditions persist after stopping the breastfeeding. It can help significantly decrease the risk of developing some chronic conditions later in life, including:

  • Diabetes Type 1 and II
  • Hypertension
  • Dental caries
  • Childhood leukemia
  • Allergies and atopic dermatitis
  • Asthma
  • Childhood obesity (babies learn how to self regulate)

Often overlooked yet important skin-to-skin contact the newborn experiences during breastfeeding. This can ease the baby’s stress and pain.

The benefits just don’t stop with the baby. For mother, it can help with postpartum depression. It can help with the post pregnancy weight loss, help decrease risk of DM II, hypertension, cv disease, as well as breast and ovarian cancer.

It is highly recommended that the baby feeds exclusively for the first 6 months of life and continue breastfeeding for the next 6 months as complimentary food are added. Breastfeeding past age 1 can continue as long as it is mutually desired. Keep in mind that continuing breastfeeding past age 1 continues to offer more benefits! Many respected professional organizations including AAFP (American Academy of Family Physicians) , AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) and WHO (World Health Organization) all support these recommendations!

If you think you may have a reason not to breastfeed, please check with your or your baby’s physician and not switch to formula on your own without a clear medical condition preventing you from exclusively breastfeeding.  Medical contraindications are rare.  Two of the contraindications to breastfeeding are mother being HIV (+) and baby having classic galactosemia, which is an inherited condition in which body cannot digest the sugar found in milk. However, this latter condition is checked as part of newborn screening in most states, including Alabama’s. If a mother has infectious (active) Tb or active herpes lesion on breast, they should hold off on directly breastfeeding their baby until cleared by their physician. However they should continue to pump and have the baby feed on breast milk, as there has been no evidence of the infection passing to the expressed breast milk. Again It is always good to check with the baby’s physician or your obstetrician or PCP if you’re not sure about a condition that could affect breastfeeding or perhaps a medication that you’re taking which you’re not sure about its secretion in breast milk and effect on baby.

Starting the newborn with breastfeeding really does allow the little one to make the best possible start in his or her life! This can be seen from the various benefits we have just discussed. That said, it is not always easy and some assistance may be required, especially to first time moms to get started. Please don’t give up if you are having trouble with breastfeeding, as there are available resources. These include skilled counseling services specializing in lactation practices that allow the most optimal feeding pattern of their baby. Encouraging breastfeeding-friendly workplaces and removal of other potential barriers to breastfeeding are important measures that need to be emphasized within the community.


Have a great day and weekend!


Dr. Efe Sahinoglu with Birmingham Direct Primary Care

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