Benefits of breastfeeding for babies

Breastfeeding in infancy has a protective effect against many childhood illnesses (external link). Breastfed infants are likely to have a reduced risk of infection, particularly those affecting the ear, respiratory tract and gastro-intestinal tract. This protective effect is particularly marked in low birthweight infants. Other probable benefits include improved cognitive and psychological developments, and a reduced risk of childhood obesity (see the Early life risk factors for obesity in childhood: cohort study).

Benefits to women

There is evidence that women who breastfeed experience less postpartum bleeding and have lower risks of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.

Economic and social benefits

In addition to the economic benefit to breastfeeding for both mothers and families, employers benefit as mothers of breastfed babies are less likely to need time off to care for a sick child.

Emphasising and reinforcing these benefits will contribute to positive attitudes and standards about breastfeeding with new mothers and across the population. 

Preventing disease and saving resources: the potential contribution of increasing breastfeeding rates in the UK (2012) (external link)  Commissioned by UNICEF demonstrates the cost of not breastfeeding to the NHS.

Age of mother and breastfeeding rates

There is a strong association between breastfeeding and the age of the mother.    The Infant Feeding Survey published in 2012 reported that, in 2010 the highest incidences of breastfeeding were found among mothers aged 30 or over (87%). Mothers under the age of 20 were least likely to breastfeed (39%).  At a UK level, increases in breastfeeding rates since 2005 were seen in all age groups, except for mothers aged 20-24. Increases since 2005 were seen among mothers aged 30 or over in all countries and among mothers aged 25-29 in England and Scotland (from 78% to 85% and from 70% to 76% respectively between 2005 and 2010).

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