A parent-to-parent voluntary support group

Why Breastfeed?

Why Breastfeed?

By Angela Cahill, Cuidiú BFC.

Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby. Breastfeeding results in normal immune function, normal digestive health and normal brain development.

Babies are hardwired to breastfeed. Following birth your newborn baby should if at all possible go straight to your chest. Snuggled in between your breasts is the natural habitat for your newborn baby. In this position babies will pick up their heads, lick their hands, nuzzle into mum and start to slide/crawl towards the breast. Keeping baby skin to skin helps baby adapt to his new environment, baby's breathing and heart rate are more normal, the oxygen in his blood is higher, temperature is more stable and blood sugar higher. Skin to skin immediately after birth allows baby to be colonised by the same bacteria as the mother. 

Human milk is biologically tailored for human babies. Human milk contains enzymes, hormones, and immunoglobulins that cannot be duplicated. Breastmilk is living tissue that changes to meet your baby's nutritional needs, and to protect him against disease. The fat content of human milk varies month to month, day to day, and even hour to hour. For example, the milk produced for a premature infant is higher in protein and calories than milk produced for a full-term infant, giving the tiny baby what he needs to optimise his growth. In cold climates, human milk contains more fat, whereas in warm climates, more water.

When a nursing mother is exposed to any bacteria or virus, her body immediately begins to produce antibodies specific to the pathogen. These antibodies pass into her milk where baby receives them. So if you pick up a cold or viral infection, continue to breastfeed. Conversely, if your baby comes into contact with something you have not your baby will pass these germs back to you when breastfeeding and your body will start to manufacture antibodies for that particular germ. By the time the next feeding arrives, your entire immune system will be working to provide immunities for you and your baby.

Each day and week that you continue breastfeeding helps to protect your baby against infections, and strengthens their ability to fight disease. Whether you decide to nurse your baby for just a few days, weeks or years, every breastfeed counts.

The Department of Health and Children and the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommend exclusive breastfeeding of infants for the first 6 months, after which mothers are recommended to continue breastfeeding, in combination with suitably nutritious and safe complementary foods, until their children are 2 years of age or older.


Jack Newman, MD, FRCPC

Jenny Thomas, MD, MPH, IBCLC, FAAP, FABM


Children who are not breastfed have a higher incidence and severity of:

  • Diarrhoea (Beaudry et al., 1995; Dewey et al., 1995, Howie, et al., 1990; Popkin et al., 1990)
  • Respiratory tract infections (Oddy et al., 2003; Galton Bachrach et al., 2003; Raisler et al., 1999; ;Oddy et ;al., 1999; Cushing et al., 1998; Scariati et al., 1997; Beaudry et al., 1995; Howie et al., 1990)
  • Invasive bacterial infection (Goldman, 1993)
  • Ear infections (Duncan et al., 1993; Aniansson et al., 1994)
  • Otitis media (Dewey et al., 1995; Aniansson et al., 1994; Paradise et al., 1994; Duncan et al., 1993, ;Owen ;et al., 1993)
  • Pneumonia (Levine et al., 1999; Gessner et al., 1995)
  • Urinary tract infection (Marild et al., 2004; Pisacane et al., 1992)
  • Metabolic diseases (Pettitt et al., 1997; Cunningham, 1995)
  • Necrotizing enterocolitis (Gorman et al., 1996; Covert et al., 1995; Kurscheid & Holschneider, 1993; Lucas & Cole, 1990)
  • Childhood Leukemia (Kwan et al., 2004)
  • Chronic digestive and respiratory diseases (Oddy et al., 1999; Cunningham, 1995)
  • Type 1 & Type 2 diabetes (Sadauskaite-Kuehne et al., 2004; Hammond-McKibben & Dosch, 1997; ;Pettitt ;et al., 1997; Norris & Scott, 1996; Perez-Bravo et al., 1996; Cunningham, 1995; Gerstein, 1994)
  • Crohn's disease (Klement et al., 2004; Cunningham, 1995; Rigas et al., 1993)
  • Coeliac disease (Greco et al., 1997; Falth-Magnusson et al., 1996)
  • Obesity (Grummer-Strawn & Mei, 2004; Armstrong et al., 2002; Toschke et al., 2002; Oken & Lightdale, 2000; Ravelli et al., 2000; Wilson et al., 1998; Meier et al., 1998; Dewey, 1998; Elliott et al., 1997; von ;Kries ;et al., 1999; Strbak et al., 1991)
  • Inflammatory bowel disease (Klement et al., 2004)
  • Childhood cancer (Shu et al., 1999; Smulevich et al., 1999; Davis, 1998)
  • Allergic disease/asthma (Oddy et al., 1999; Wright et al., 1995; Saarinen & Kajosaari, 1995; Saarinen & Kajosaari, 1995; Burr et al., 1993; Halken et al., 1992; Lucas et al., 1990)
  • Cardiovascular disease (Owen et al., 2002).

Mothers who do not breastfeed are at greater risk of:

  • Postpartum bleeding (Anderson et al., 1999; Heinig & Dewey, 1997; Chua et al., 1994; Institute of Medicine, 1991)
  • Pre and postmenopausal breast cancer (Lee et al., 2003; Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors ;in Breast Cancer, 2002; Zheng et al., 2001; Zheng et al., 2000; Fuberg et al., 1999; Marcus et al., 1999; Newcomb et al., 1999; Enger et al., 1998; Enger et al., 1997; Weiss et al., 1997; Brinton et al., 1995; Newcomb et al., 1994)
  • Ovarian cancer (Rosenblatt et al., 1993; Whittemore et al., 1992; Gwinn et al., 1990)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis (Karlson et al., 2004)
  • Postmenopausal osteoporosis (Paton et al., 2003; Labbok, 2001; Karlsson et al., 2001; Cumming & Klineberg, 1993)

Source: Breastfeeding in Ireland - A Five Year Strategic Action Plan 2005 -The Importance of Breastfeeding.