August 9, 2022

Breastfeeding benefits children's and mothers' health alike

Breast milk promotes healthy growth for babies, while lowering the risk of breast cancer and other health issues for mothers.

If you’re an expectant mother or you’ve recently given birth you’ve likely weighed the benefits and challenges of breastfeeding.

In almost all cases, Liz Diaz-Querol, MD, with Kaiser Permanente in Southern California, recommends breastfeeding.

“Breastfeeding will help ensure that your child can grow up healthy, and it will also lower your child's risk for sudden infant death syndrome. Additionally, it’s also likely to help protect your child from other health problems such as infections, obesity, and diabetes.”

Benefits beyond the child

The benefits of breastfeeding are not exclusively beneficial to the child, but also offer health benefits to the mother.

“Breastfeeding mothers are more likely to recover sooner from pregnancy, labor, and delivery,”  

Dr. Diaz-Querol explained. “People who breastfeed are also more apt to lower their risk for certain serious health problems, such as breast cancer.”

According to Dr. Diaz-Querol, breast milk is the only food most babies need until about 6 months of age. Until then, babies don’t need to be given baby food, water, or juice, she noted. Dr. Diaz-Querol encouraged mothers to ask their doctors when they should start feeding their baby solid foods. 

As your baby starts to eat other food, you are likely to gradually breastfeed less often, she explained. However, you should continue breastfeeding your child for as long as you and your baby want to. “Your baby will continue to get health benefits from breast milk past the first year.”

Who can breastfeed?

Almost all mothers of newborns are able to breastfeed. “Even if you have a health problem such as diabetes, or if you’ve had breast surgery, you can likely still breastfeed,” Dr. Diaz-Querol said. Only some women should not breastfeed, such as those who are HIV-positive or who have active tuberculosis.

If a mother is unable to breastfeed her child, Dr. Diaz-Querol recommends a conversation with the baby’s pediatrician to discuss alternatives.

Dr. Diaz-Querol encourages mothers not to give up quickly on breastfeeding, noting it’s a learned skill.

“You’ll get better at it with practice,” she explained. “My advice is to be patient with yourself and your baby. If you have trouble, doctors, nurses, and lactation consultants can all help. So can friends, family, and breastfeeding support groups.”

Kaiser Permanente offers valuable breastfeeding tips to mothers.