Humans are mammals. Mammals produce milk specifically designed for their young.
The components of breastmilk help to mature the gut and protect babies from infection.
The act of breastfeeding supports, not only the physiological growth and development of the baby, but also the psychological development by enveloping the baby in the warmth, smell and taste of familiarity.
Until the 1860's babies were breastfed - if not by their mother then by a wet-nurse.
Infant formula, otherwise referred to as artificial baby milk or a breastmilk substitute, was designed for emergency use when a baby was abandoned or following the mothers death. They are produced using the milk of another animal or, in the case of soy formula, the juice of a plant. Sadly the use of these products has increased despite the knowledge that they are associated with health risks for both the baby and the mother.
A mother who breastfeeds her baby is less likely to develop breast cancer1, uterine cancer2 and ovarian cancer1. She is less likely to suffer from rheumatoid arthritis3 and osteoporosis1. This is because the hormonal response in her body, by breastfeeding, has a protective effect. The longer she breastfeeds the better the protection.
Babies who are not breastfed have an increased risk of developing atopic disease4, obesity5, Types 1 & 2 Diabetes1, gastroenteritis6, Crohn's disease7, Coeliac disease8, Sudden Unexplained Death of an Infant9 (SUDI), heart disease and hypertension10 in later life, and otitis media11, to name a few.
Breastfeeding is important for other reasons - not just for health but to the environment. Waste products associated with artificial baby milk feeding such as packaging, bottles, teats and tins contribute to pollution; and the cost per household of purchasing the product, heating and sterilising expenses equates to over $1000 per year.
For optimal health the World Health Organisation, and the New Zealand Ministry of Health recommend a baby be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with continued breastfeeding to the second year of life and beyond, alongside the addition of appropriate, adequate complementary food.
Ip S, Chung M, Raman G et al. Breastfeeding and maternal and infant health outcomes in developed countries. Evid Rep Technol Assess (Full Rep). 2007 Apr;(153):1-186
Rosenblatt K.A. et al. Prolonged lactation and endometrial cancer. Int J Epidemiol 24: 499-503, 1995.
Pikwer M, Bergström U et al. Breast-feeding, but not oral contraceptives, is associated with a reduced risk of rheumatoid arthritis. Ann Rheum Dis 2008
Oddy, W 2004, The Relation of Breastfeeding and Body Mass Index to Asthma and Atopy in Children: A Prospective Cohort Study to Age 6 Years Am J Public Health. September; 94(9): 1531-1537. 2004; Matheson MC, Erbas B, Balasuriya A et al. Breast-feeding and atopic disease: a cohort study from childhood to middle age. J Allergy Clin Immunol 2007;
Miralles O, Sanchez J et al. A Physiological Role of Breast Milk Leptin in Body Weight Control in Developing Infants. Obesity (2006) 14, 1371-1377; Weyermann M, Brenner H et al. Adipokines in Human Milk and Risk of Overweight in Early Childhood: A Prospective Cohort Study. Epidemiology: Vol 18 (6) 722-729, 2007. Huus K, Ludvigsson JF. Exclusive breastfeeding of Swedish children and its possible influence on the development of obesity: a prospective cohort study. BMC Pediatrics, 8:42 2008
Talayero JMP, Lizán-Garcia M et al. Full breastfeeding and hospitalisation as a result of infections in the first year of life. Pediatrics, Vol. 118, pp. e92-e99.2006
Klement E et al. Breastfeeding and risk of inflammatory bowel disease: a systematic review with meta-analysis. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, Vol. 80(5) 1342-1352, 2004
Akobeng AK et al. Effect of breast feeding on risk of coeliac disease: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies. Arch Dis Child 91:39-43 (2006)
Venneman MM, Bajanowski T et al. Vennemann MM, Bajanowski T, Brinkmann B, Jorch G, Sauerland C, Mitchell EA. Sleep environment risk factors for sudden infant death syndrome: the German Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Study. Pediatrics; 123:1162-70 (2009)
Martin RM, Gunnell D et al. Breastfeeding in Infancy and Blood Pressure in Later Life: Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology Volume161, Issue1Pp. 15-26.2005
Tarrant, M; Kwok, M; Lam, T; Leung, G; Schooling, C. Breast-feeding and Childhood Hospitalizations for Infections. Epidemiology: Vol 21 (6): 847-854 (2010)