Breast milk provides all the calories and nutrients (protein, fat, sugar, vitamins and minerals) that a baby needs for the first 6 months of life. It also contains special proteins made by the mother’s immune (infection-fighting) system that help protect babies from illnesses like ear infections (otitis media), lung infections (pneumonia), and vomiting and diarrhea (gastroenteritis). Breast-feeding may also help protect against sudden infant death syndrome.
Breast milk is easier for babies to digest, and breast-fed babies tend to spit up less often. Exclusively breast-feeding for the first six months may help prevent food allergies and other medical problems, such as diabetes. Furthermore, some research suggests that breast-feeding also may help with brain development and learning.
Breast-feeding is convenient, costs less than formula, does not need to be prepared, and is always available at the right temperature. Breast-feeding also requires close physical contact, which helps create a special bond between a mother and her baby and can be especially soothing for babies.
For the mother, the production of breast milk burns extra calories, helps women return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly, helps the uterus return to its normal size more quickly after delivery, and may even reduce the risk of ovarian cancer and premenopausal breast cancer.