Science Says: the benefits of exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months

Breastmilk is the gold standard for infant nutrition.

Research shows that even in developing countries among malnourished women, breastmilk output is sufficient to maintain infant growth for up until six months. Mothers who are able to breastfeed exclusively for six months reduce grocery bills and supply chain worries, and they also gain some powerful health advantages for themselves and their babies. That’s why the U.S. Dietary Guidelines for Americans, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organizationall recommend exclusive breastfeeding for four to six months. After six months, leading experts in lactation recommend continuing to breastfeed if possible, supplementing your infant’s diet with complementary foods until they’re 12 months old or older for maximum benefit.

What are the immediate health and wellness benefits of breastfeeding?

Lower risk of gastrointestinal infection for the baby

More than 350 million cases of infant infectious gastroenteritis occur in the United States annually, and as many as 300 of those cases end in death. Today, the highly contagious norovirus is the leading cause of acute gastrointestinal infection in American children. Noroviruses and related viruses cause diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and terrible stomach pain. According to the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases, “By five years of age, one out of every 14 children will visit an emergency room and one out of 278 children will be hospitalized due to norovirus.” Studies show that careful hygiene and exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months significantly reduces the risk of GI infections from viruses like norovirus and rotavirus.

More rapid maternal weight loss after birth

Research shows that mothers who breastfeed exclusively during the first three months postpartum achieve nearly 3% greater weight loss at 12 months than mothers who don’t. Exclusive breastfeeding also increased a mother’s probability of returning to pre-pregnancy BMI by nearly 6% relative to those who don’t breastfeed exclusively. If you’re raring to get back to your pre-pregnancy form, give yourself at least three months of exclusive breastfeeding.

Delayed return of menstrual cycle

Lactational amenorrhea (a.k.a. the absence of menstruation caused by lactation) has played a significant role in natural fertility regulation throughout human history. While all women are different, most women who exclusively breastfeed for three months or longer can hold off their menstrual cycle for as long. During those early months of parenting, you’ll appreciate these little perks.

Reduced risks associated with postpartum depression

Research is also being conducted into the mental health impacts of exclusive breastfeeding, and so far, the findings are positive. A 2021 study looked at women with prenatal depression who chose to breastfeed exclusively for three months postpartum. At three and six months postpartum, the mothers who were breastfeeding exclusively showed fewer symptoms of depression than participants with prenatal depression who did not exclusively breastfeed. This may be in part due to the fact that breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which can do wonders for your mood.

What are the long-term health benefits of breastfeeding?

Lower risk of chronic conditions as your baby grows

In addition to providing your newborn with exactly the nutrients they need right this minute, exclusive breastfeeding also provides some long-term protection against a wide variety of chronic conditions, including obesityType 1 diabetesasthma, and allergic illnesses. Exclusive breastfeeding for one month also decreases the risk of SIDS by 50%.

Reduced risk of several life threatening illnesses among breastfeeding mothers

Likewise, mothers get more than a temporary benefit from exclusive breastfeeding. A 2002 study found that a woman’s relative risk for breast cancer is reduced by nearly 5% for every 12 months she breastfeeds. A 2020 study found that breastfeeding for 12 or more months was associated with a 34% lower risk of invasive ovarian cancer while even one month of exclusive breastfeeding reduces risk of ovarian cancer by around 18%. As if that’s not enough, breastfeeding for longer than two months lowers a mother’s risk of Type 2 diabetes by almost one half, and that is completely independent from weight loss.

If you can’t exclusively breastfeed, do the next best thing.

At Milk N Mamas Baby, we’re big fans of exclusive breastfeeding because it comes with a lot of benefits for moms and babies. However, we know that not everybody can or even wants to breastfeed exclusively. Pumping breastmilk is a way to provide most of the health benefits of exclusive breastfeeding on your own terms. Give us a call today to learn about the best pumps for your situation.