What are the benefits of breast feeding for the infant?

Breast milk is best for infants. Considerable advances have occurred in recent years in the scientific knowledge of the benefits of breast milk and in understanding the mechanisms underlying these benefits. 1

Breast feeding is the biological norm for infant feeding and is a traditional practice in most cultures. It is the unequalled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants and toddlers. Breast milk is safe and clean and contains many functional components, including live cells and antibodies, which help to protect the infant against many common childhood illnesses.

Breast feeding forms a unique biological and emotional basis for the health of both mother and child and plays an important and central role in protecting the health of the infant and promoting physical, neurological and emotional development in the short and long term.2,3 These long-term protective effects appear to be related to the duration and type of breast feeding.4

There are numerous benefits of breast milk and breast feeding some of which include:

  • Breast feeding provides the optimal nutrition for an infant and contains all the nutrients an infant needs.
  • Breast feeding protects the infant from illness and infection.
  • Research in developed countries provides strong evidence that breast milk decreases the incidence and/or severity of a wide range of infectious diseases including bacterial meningitis, bacteremia, diarrhoea, respiratory tract infection, necrotizing enterocolitis, and urinary tract infection.1
  • It is completely natural, is always at the right temperature and is readily available.
  • It is readily digested and absorbed.5
  • It provides immunity factors and helps activate an infant’s developing immune system (both passive and active immunity).5
  • Breast milk varies in composition over the lactation period and during a single feed to meet an infant’s individual and varying appetite and thirst.6

Breast milk provides the optimal nutrition for infants in their first 6 months of life.