Breastfeeding is important for a variety of reasons; not simply for nutritional purposes. There is a wealth of research (references are listed at the end of this page) that shows the health benefits that breastfeeding gives to both mother and baby. Breastfeeding is widely known as being a major public health contributor and has a significant role in reducing health inequalities worldwide.

Health benefits for baby

Research studies show that babies who are breastfed for four to six months after birth are less likely to suffer from:

  • Gastroenteritis 
  • Respiratory infections
  • Atopic disease 
  • Otitis media 
  • Type 1 and 2 Diabetes 
  • Urinary tract infections (UTIs)
  • Necrotising enterocolitis (NEC)

Additional health benefits 

  • breastfeeding has been shown to protect babies against hypertension (high blood pressure) and raised cholesterol levels in their adult life. Both of these conditions have significant implications for cardiovascular health in the longer term 
  • breastfeeding has been shown to have a protective effect against obesity
  • breastfeeding helps babies produce antibodies to help fight off infections
  • breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of babies developing childhood leukaemia 
  • breastfed babies have been found to have better eyesight
  • breastfed babies have higher developmental performance and educational achievement (intelligence/IQ scores) 
  • research suggests the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) is lower in breastfed babies, although research findings are inconsistent. However, a large German study found that breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS by around 50% and that this protective effect continues throughout infancy and for as long as the baby continues to be breastfed 

Other potential health benefits requiring further research

Emerging research indicates that breastfeeding/receiving breast milk may potentially confer additional protective health benefits on babies, including: 

  • reduced child abuse/neglect
  • improved parenting
  • protection against tonsillectomy
  • protection against acute appendicitis
  • protection against multiple sclerosis

Health benefits for mum

Research studies demonstrate that breastfeeding gives significant health benefits for mums too. Women who breastfeed have been found to be significantly less likely to develop a range of conditions: 

  • breast and ovarian cancer – breastfeeding is cited by the World Cancer Research Fund as one of 10 recommendations in reducing the risk of cancer 
  • breastfeeding women are at reduced risk of osteoporosis (thinning of the bones) and post-menopausal hip fractures – studies suggest that the longer women breastfeed, the greater their protection 
  • there is recent research that suggests prolonged breastfeeding has a protective effect on post-menopausal risk factors for cardiovascular disease 
  • studies suggest that breastfeeding women may also have a reduced risk of developing type 2 diabetes 
  • studies indicate that breastfeeding may protect against negative moods (postnatal depression) and perceived stress 
  • breastfeeding burns off an extra 500 calories a day, consequently, breastfeeding mothers tend to lose some of the weight gained during pregnancy more quickly than women who formula feed. Breastfeeding also supports involution (the process whereby the uterus returns to its pre-pregnant size as a pelvic organ). 

More information

For more information about the evidence for the benefits of breastfeeding in industrialised countries, see

Breastfeeding Manifesto

Nine out of ten women in the UK who stop breastfeeding before their baby is six weeks old would have liked to breastfeed for longer.

We founded the Breastfeeding Coalition in 2006 and now work with 40 organisations, including five Royal Colleges, UNICEF and all the national breastfeeding charities. You can read more about the manifesto on the From Bump to Breastfeeding Evidence, Impact and Evaluation page.


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Cumming RG, Klineberg RJ (1993). Breastfeeding and other reproductive factors and the risk of hip fractures in elderly women. International Journal of Epidemiology 22:684-691.

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Duncan B et al (1993). Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 4 months protects against otitis media. Pediatrics 5:867-872.

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