Quick Reference and Fact Sheets March of Dimes Professionals and Researchers

Quick Reference and Fact Sheets
March of Dimes
Professionals and Researchers
Breastmilk is the best food for most babies.
Breastmilk contains all the nutrients a baby needs
for healthy growth and development during the first
six months of life, as well as substances that help
protect a baby from many illnesses. Breastfeeding
provides health benefits for the mother, including
that breastfed babies are less likely than formulafed babies to have ear infections, lower respiratory
infections (such as pneumonia and bronchiolitis),
meningitis, urinary tract infections and diarrhea1.
Studies also suggest that breastfed babies may be
less likely to die from sudden infant death syndrome
(SIDS)1. Breastmilk is easy for a baby to digest, so
the baby may have less gas and discomfort than a
formula-fed baby.
earlier return to her pre-pregnancy weight. And
The health benefits of breastfeeding can last a
there are emotional benefits for mother and baby
lifetime. Studies suggest that children and adults
from the special bond that develops between them.
who were breastfed are less likely to develop
The March of Dimes urges all new mothers to
asthma, insulin-dependent diabetes and certain
breastfeed if they are able. The American Academy
cancers (leukemia, lymphoma and Hodgkin’s
of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that a baby be
disease)1. Babies who were breastfed may be
breastfed for at least twelve months1. However, even
less likely to become obese later in life1.
babies who breastfeed for only a short period of
time experience health benefits.
What are the benefits of breastfeeding for
the baby?
Breastfeeding also may enhance brain development.
Some studies suggest that children who were
breastfed may score higher on tests of cognitive
ability than children who were fed formula1.
Breastmilk provides the ideal amounts of protein,
sugar, fat and most vitamins a baby needs for
healthy growth and development. Breastmilk also
contains substances called antibodies that help
protect a baby from many illnesses. Studies show
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What are the benefits of breastfeeding for the
Breastfeeding leads to increased levels of a
hormone called oxytocin that causes the new
mother’s uterus to contract. This contraction helps
Quick Reference and Fact Sheets
reduce bleeding after delivery and shrink the uterus
Breastmilk includes antibodies and other immune-
to its pre-pregnancy size. Breastfeeding also delays
system substances that help protect a baby from
the return of a woman’s menstrual period, helping
illness. It contains growth factors, hormones and
her to postpone another pregnancy. It is difficult to
other substances that help a baby grow and develop
determine when fertility will return in a breastfeeding
at an appropriate rate. Breastmilk also contains fatty
mother. So if a woman and her partner do not want
acids that appear to promote brain development and
another baby right away, they should use birth
possibly increase intelligence. Some formula makers
control when they start having sex again.
add two of these fatty acids – DHA (docosahexaenoic
Breastfeeding mothers burn more calories than
women who don’t breastfeed, so they tend to return
to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly. This is
acid) and ARA (arachidonic acid) to their products.
However, the long-term benefits of formula
enhanced with these fatty acids are not known.
true even though a breastfeeding woman should eat
The AAP recommends that all babies, including
500 extra calories a day to keep up her milk supply
those who are exclusively breastfed, consume at
and meet her own nutritional needs2. Studies suggest
least 200 international units (IU) of vitamin D to help
that breastfeeding may help reduce a woman’s risk of
prevent a bone-weakening disease called rickets1.
breast and ovarian cancer1,2.
Exclusively breastfed babies are at increased risk of
How do breastmilk and formula differ?
Breastmilk contains all the ingredients that a human
baby needs to thrive. Formulas based on cow’s
milk or soy include many of the same nutrients,
rickets because breastmilk is low in vitamin D. Most
formula-fed babies get enough vitamin D. Breastfed
babies should receive multivitamin drops containing
vitamin D starting in the first two months of life1.
but not all. Formula makers cannot duplicate all of
Unlike formula, breastmilk changes as a baby
the ingredients in breastmilk, because some of the
develops and provides just the right amount of
ingredients are not known.
nutrients and other substances that a baby needs
at various stages of development. For example,
for the first few days after delivery, a woman’s
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Quick Reference and Fact Sheets
breasts produce a think, yellowish form of milk
exceptions. Women in the United States who have
called colostrum. Colostrum is high in proteins and
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, the virus that
immune substances that the baby needs in the
causes AIDS) should not breastfeed because they
early days of life. After this time, the mother begins
can pass the virus on to their babies in their
to produce greater quantities of a thinner form
of milk that is lower in protein and higher in fat.
The breastmilk of a mother of a premature baby is
different from that of a mother of a full-term baby
and is designed to meet her baby’s needs at his/her
specific stage of development.
This recommendation may differ in some
developing countries. Women who have active
tuberculosis and who have not been treated with
medications should not breastfeed. A woman with
an illness, such as the flu, usually does not need to
How long should a woman breastfeed her baby?
interrupt breastfeeding because she will pass along
The AAP recommends that infants be fed only
antibodies to her baby that will help protect him/her
breastmilk (no water, formula, other liquids or solids)
from the illness.
for about the first six months of life1. Women should
continue to breastfeed their babies for the next six
months while solid foods are introduced. They can
continue breastfeeding after 12 months as long as
the mother and baby desire.
However, a new mother should keep in mind that
breastfeeding for even a short period of time
provides health benefits for her baby.
Women who have had breast surgery, such as
breast enlargement or reduction, should discuss
breastfeeding with their healthcare providers.
Most will be able to breastfeed, though some may
have problems, such as not being able to produce
enough milk.
Most women who take medications for chronic
health conditions (such as high blood pressure or
Who should not breastfeed their baby?
asthma) or antibiotics for common illnesses (such
Breastfeeding is recommended for the vast majority
as strep throat) can safely breastfeed. While small
of mothers and babies. However, there are a few
amounts of many medications do enter breastmilk,
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most do not harm the baby. However, a woman
Women who are vegetarians can breastfeed their
should always check with her healthcare provider
babies, but they should discuss their diets with
and her baby’s provider before taking a medication
their healthcare provider. According to the Centers
(including over-the-counter and herbal preparations)
of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), some
to see if it is safe to take while breastfeeding. The
vegetarians may need to take a vitamin supplement
healthcare provider may switch a woman to a safer
containing vitamin B123. Without supplementation,
medication. Or the provider may advise her to take
breastfed babies of women who eat no animal
her medication soon after breastfeeding, so most of
products may not get enough vitamin B12, which
the medication will be out of her system before the
may cause brain abnormalities.
next feeding.
Women whose babies have galactosemia, an
A small number of medications are believed to
uncommon genetic disorder of body chemistry,
pose a risk to a breastfeeding baby. A woman who
should not breastfeed1. Babies with galactosemia
takes these medications will probably need to stop
cannot process the sugar in milk (including breastmilk
breastfeeding temporarily and formula-feed her
and dairy-based formulas) and may die or develop
baby as long as she takes the medication. These
mental retardation if they eat any milk products.
drugs include cancer drugs, radioactive compounds
Babies with galactosemia must be fed a non-dairy
(used with certain imaging tests) and some drugs
formula. Newborn screening tests detect most
used to treat migraine headaches1,2. Illicit drugs, such
babies with galactosemia soon after birth.
as cocaine and amphetamines, also pose a risk to
breastfeeding babies, as do large amounts of
Do premature or sick babies benefit from
alcohol1. Women should avoid these substances
Many premature or sick babies cannot feed from
while breastfeeding.
the breast right away. However, the benefits of
breastmilk, including protection from many diseases,
may be especially crucial for these babies.
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Mothers can use the breast pump to express their
lactation consultant. Very few women cannot produce
milk so that the milk can be fed to their babies
enough milk for their babies, so breastfeeding moms
through a tube or with a dropper. By pumping her
should ask for assistance when they need it.
breasts, a mother keeps up her milk supply so that
her baby can breastfeed when she is stronger.
All breastfed babies should be checked by a
healthcare provider at three to five days of age1.
How many women breastfeed their babies?
The provider will examine the baby and check to
In 2003, about 70 percent of women in the United
see if he/she has jaundice (yellowing of the skin,
States were breastfeeding their babies when they
which occasionally requires treatment). The provider
left the hospital4. About 36 percent of women were
also will weigh the baby to make sure he is gaining
still breastfeeding their babies at six months of age4.
enough weight.
These are the highest numbers ever recorded in the
United States.
Where can a woman find information and
assistance with breastfeeding?
The following organizations can also provide
materials and assistance:
American Academy of Pediatrics (847) 434-4000
La Leche League, International (800) 525-3243
Pregnant women and their partners should consider
International Lactation Consultant Association
taking a breastfeeding class. Many hospitals offer
(919) 861-5577
these classes. After delivery, the postpartum nurse
American College of Nurse-Midwives
and the baby’s healthcare provider will help assure
Online Community of Mothers and Nursing
that breastfeeding is going smoothly before the
woman leaves the hospital. Breastfeeding should not
hurt when done correctly. Many hospitals also have a
lactation consultant on staff to provide assistance.
Once home, a mother should discuss breastfeeding
questions with her baby’s health careprovider or a
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1. American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).
“Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk: Policy
Statement”. Pediatrics, volume 115, number 2,
February 2005, pages 496-506.
Quick Reference and Fact Sheets
2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG).
“Your Pregnancy and Birth,” 4th Edition. ACOG, Washing, DC,
3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Neurologic Impairment in Children Associated with Maternal
Dietary Deficiency of Cobalamin” – Georgia, 2001. Morbidity and
Mortality Weekly Report, volume 52, number 4, January 31, 2003,
pages 61-64.
4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
“Breastfeeding Practices: Results from the 2003 National
Immunization Survey.” Update 8/11/04.
Additional Reference
Meek, J.Y. (editor-in-chief). American Academy of Pediatrics New
Mother’s Guide to Breastfeeding. New York: Bantam Books, 2002.
August 2005.
Copyright 2008 March of Dimes Foundation. All rights reserved.
The March of Dimes is a not-for-profit organization recognized as
tax-exempt under Internal Revenue Code section 501(c)(3). Our
mission is to improve the health of babies by preventing birth
defects, premature birth, and infant mortality.
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