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Mother breastfeeding her child

The amazing benefits of breast milk

For parents who want to and are able to, breastfeeding and feeding babies human milk offers lifelong benefits, both for the baby and the mother. Human milk not only provides the best nutrition, it protects babies against a variety of infections and diseases while promoting optimal growth and development. The human-specific properties in human milk are not available in infant formula.

Despite these important health benefits, just 25 percent of babies under 6 months of age in the United States are exclusively breastfed. While some parents choose not to breastfeed, many other factors contribute to these low breastfeeding rates including socioeconomic disparities, gender discrimination and lack of support for breastfeeding in the workplace.

Part of promoting breastfeeding, whether at Children’s Wisconsin, in our community primary care clinics, or through advocacy, is educating all people on the benefits of breastfeeding. They are many, and some may amaze you!

  • Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce child and infant illness and deaths.

  • For children, breastfeeding combats infectious diseases, decreases diarrhea, lowers respiratory infections, and even prevents dental cavities.

  • For women, breastfeeding can help lower the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and hypertension. Breastfeeding can also help women return to their pre-pregnancy weight sooner.

  • Breastfeeding benefits all types of families –– not all lactating/nursing parents identify as mothers. There are many types of nursing families such as those nursing adopted babies, transgender parents who choose to breastfeed or chestfeed their babies or surrogate mothers who pump and provide milk after they deliver the baby.

Support is key

Breastfeeding/pumping parents who get support from their workplace are more likely to continue breastfeeding. Fathers/partners also benefit from workplace support for family leave after the birth of a baby. Including fathers and the partners of nursing parents is key to success.

Ask your employer what your options are for family leave and supporting pumping. If your employer does not have a policy in place to support pumping, you can ask your employer to provide support through scheduled breaks and a safe, private place to pump. The Fair Labor and Standards Act (FLSA) requires employers with 50 or more employees to accommodate employees’ breastfeeding needs. This means providing a space, other than a bathroom, where mothers can express breast milk privately.

Families who get lactation support from professionals such as a certified lactation consultant or their family health care provider are more likely to succeed at breastfeeding. If you have questions about breastfeeding or pumping, talk to your pediatrician, community health navigator or a certified lactation consultant.