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Benefits of Breastfeeding

Every woman's journey to motherhood is different, but one of the first decisions every new mother makes is how to feed her child.

The foundations for a healthy life are laid in pregnancy, infancy and childhood. There is plenty of evidence internationally supporting that breastfeeding contributes positively to infant and maternal health, as well as the social wellbeing of a baby, mother, family and community.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) and New Zealand Ministry of Health recommend for a baby to be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age and beyond.

Breastmilk contains antibodies that matures the gut and helps your baby fight off viruses, bacteria and infection. The act of breastfeeding supports not only the physiological growth and development of a baby, but also psychological development by enveloping the baby in warmth, smell and taste of familiarity.

Health benefits

Babies who are breastfeed have a lower risk of:

  • respiratory infections

  • allergies such as asthma, eczema and lactose intolerance

  • Type 1 &2 Diabetes

  • atopic disease

  • gastroenteritis

  • Coeliac disease

  • hypertension

  • otitis media

  • obesity

  • high blood pressure and cholesterol

  • sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

Babies that are exclusively breastfed for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections and bouts of diarrhoea.

Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of:

  • breast cancer, uterine cancer, ovarian cancer

  • hip fractures and reduced bone density in later life

  • hypertension

  • rheumatoid arthritis

  • cardiovascular (CV) disease

  • maternal Type 2 Diabetes

  • stress

  • postpartum depression


Financial benefits

High breastfeeding rates would significantly improve the health of New Zealanders now and in the future. Savings associated with increased breastfeeding could see funding redirected into new training programmes and other areas of care, as well as reducing pressure on the public health care system by minimising hospital visits and GP consultations.

A UNICEF report, Preventing Disease and Saving Resources, published in 2012 examined how raising breastfeeding rates in the United Kingdom could save money through improving health outcomes. The report shows that moderate increases in breastfeeding could save millions in annual savings to the National Health Service (NHS).

Read the full report here.

Non-breastfeeding mothers should also consider the ongoing costs of purchasing products associated with artificial baby milk feeding or infant formula. Expenses resulting from purchasing the products, heating and sterilising equates to more than $1000 per annum per household.

Environmental benefits

Breastfeeding can have a positive impact on the environment by reducing consumer waste. Waste products associated with infant formula or artificial baby milk such as packaging, plastic bottles, teats and tins contribute to landfill and waste pollution.

All mothers, regardless of their feeding method, should dispose of, and recycle baby-related products responsibly to ensure minimal impact on the environment.