Understanding Breastfeeding Benefits

Breastfeeding offers many health benefits for children, women, and society.

The American Academy of Pediatrics Exit Disclaimer and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists Exit Disclaimer recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, with continued breastfeeding for at least one year balanced with the introduction of foods.

It is also an objective of Healthy People 2020 for communities nationwide.

What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

Nutrition

Breast milk contains nutrients, antibodies, and other essential factors that:

  • Protect babies from infections
  • Promote brain development
  • Improve the function of the infant’s digestive system

For most babies, especially those born prematurely, breast milk is easier to digest than breastmilk substitutes, such as formula.

Fewer appointments and lower costs

Compared to infants who were never breastfed, breastfed babies typically require fewer:

  • Sick visits
  • Prescriptions
  • Hospitalizations
  • Medical care costs compared to infants who were never breastfed

Stronger bonding

Breastfeeding helps mother and baby bond. Skin-to-skin contact, sometimes referred to as kangaroo mother care, boosts oxytocin levels in the mom and helps babies feel secure and comforted.

Women who breastfeed recover faster following delivery than women who do not breastfeed.

Reduced risks for mothers and children

Women who breastfeed have a reduced risk of developing:

  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer
  • Type 2 diabetes

Research indicates that breastfed babies have a lower risk of:

  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Childhood obesity
  • Severe respiratory infections
  • Acute ear infections
  • Eczema
  • Diarrhea
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Leukemia

HRSA-MCHB Supports Breastfeeding

Each year, our programs serve more than 50 million women, children and families in the United States, including half of all pregnant women and one-third of all infants and children.

Which MCHB initiatives support pregnant and lactating women?

  • Title V MCH Block Grant
    • Promotes and improves the health of our nation’s mothers and children.
    • Creates federal/state partnerships to address the health services needs of the state/jurisdiction’s mothers, infants and children, which includes children with special health care needs, and their families.
      • Breastfeeding is one of the Title V’s National Performance Measures, which are 15 health areas that have a significant impact on population health.
      • States must spend Title V funds to address and improve any five out of the 15 measures.
  • Women’s Preventive Services Guidelines
    ​Supporting the Women’s Preventive Services Initiative Exit Disclaimer clinical recommendations, include:
    • Comprehensive lactation support services (such as counseling, education, and breastfeeding equipment and supplies) during and after pregnancy to ensure the successful initiation and maintenance of breastfeeding.
  • Healthy Start Program
    • Supports women before, during, and after pregnancy.
    • Provides trained breastfeeding counselors for program clients.
  • Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting (MIECHV) Program
    • Supports voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services for at-risk pregnant women and parents with young children up to kindergarten entry.
    • Help mothers with the initiation and duration of breastfeeding. 
    • Program grantees collect and report on the percent of infants (among mothers who enrolled in home visiting prenatally) who were breastfed any amount at six months of age.
  • Children’s Healthy Weight Collaborative Improvement and Innovation Network (CHW-CoIIN) (PDF - 451 KB)
    Supports MCH State Title V Programs in:
    • Adopting evidence-based or evidence-informed policies and practices related to breastfeeding, nutrition and physical activity.
    • Promoting healthy weight among all children, including those with special health care needs.
  • Using Technology to Prevent Childhood Obesity in Low-Income Families and Communities Challenge
    • Empower low-income families to achieve healthy lifestyles and improve the health of communities across the U.S. 
    • Phase 1 winners are collaborating with different populations, including breastfeeding mothers, children ages birth to 19, Latino, American Indian and Alaska Native families, and families with children with intellectual and developmental disabilities.
  • Mother to Baby Exit Disclaimer
    • Connects moms, health care professionals, and the public to experts who provide free information on the safety of medications and other exposures during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
      • A service of the Organization of Teratology Information Specialists (OTIS).
  • The Business Case for Breastfeeding
    • Educate employers about the value of supporting breastfeeding employees in the workplace.

What other federal resources are available?

Date Last Reviewed:  June 2019