Benefits of Breastfeeding - A timeline through the ages

Breastfeeding is much more than the act of feeding your baby. It also provides an incredible number of health benefits to you and your baby. And by lowering healthcare costs, reducing the need for maternal sick days and helping the environment due to less waste, breastfeeding has far-reaching benefits for our society as a whole.

Whether you breastfeed for a day, a year or more, you’ll give your baby and yourself a priceless gift. Here is a timeline of the key benefits of breastfeeding to keep you motivated, even when things get tough:

Benefits of Breastfeeding - A Timeline of the First Year

A few days

Colostrum—that thick, yellow liquid you produce before your milk comes in—provides antibodies, serving as the first “immunization” for your baby, and supplies the perfect nutrition. In these first days, colostrum stabilizes blood sugars and kickstart the baby’s digestive system. Breastfeeding helps you recover from birth as it causes your uterus to contract back to its normal size. And that skin-to-skin contact and snuggling create a perfect environment for quality bonding.

Four to six weeks

After the first few weeks, you will probably be past most of those early challenges like latching issues and pain, and you’ll now have an established milk supply. Breastfeeding means you won’t have to deal with washing and preparing bottles—at least until you start pumping—which makes middle-of-the-night and on-the-go feedings easier. This period is also the most critical time for building your baby’s immune system. As your baby grows, your breastmilk adapts to their needs and helps prevent digestive issues. By one month, you’ve helped protect them from developing food and respiratory allergies later in life. And by six weeks, your baby will have a lower risk of chest infections up until 7 years old.

Two months

Research has found that the risk of SIDS among exclusively breastfed babies was 73 percent lower. For babies who received any breastmilk for any duration, the likelihood of SIDS was 60 percent lower. And for those who were breastfed at two months of age and older, the risk was 62 percent lower. After two months of breastfeeding, your baby will also have a reduced risk of food allergies at three years old.

Three to four months

After three months, you’ll give your baby a reduced risk of developing asthma and childhood Type 1 diabetes. At this point, your baby’s digestive system has also matured significantly. Breastfeeding moms also experience lower rates of postpartum depression up to four months after giving birth. By burning more calories, breastfeeding may also help you drop the baby weight more quickly (but don’t worry if it doesn’t happen right away—after all, it took nine months to grow that baby!).

Six months

Good news for you, Mom! With at least six months of breastfeeding under your belt, you have a reduced risk of breast cancer. Your baby also has a lower risk of ear infections and a 19 percent lower risk for childhood leukemia. Studies have linked breastfeeding with< improved cognitive development for babies that extends into childhood. They often develop motor skills at an earlier age and may be less likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. By this time, the two of you have established a strong foundation of nutrition and readiness for solids.

Nine months

Your breastmilk has helped your baby’s physical development and continues to fuel them as they are becoming more active and independent. Breastfeeding is also a great way to comfort your baby as they experience growth spurts, teething and the occasional bump or bruise.

One year

If you’ve breastfed for one year, you have officially saved big bucks on formula. Meeting the AAP recommendation of breastfeeding for one year means you’ve given your baby health benefits that will last a lifetime, including being less likely to become overweight later in life and having a lower risk of heart disease as an adult. They are also less likely to need orthodontia or speech therapy.

The benefits of breastmilk even extend beyond the first year. Of course, it’s up to you how long you want to breastfeed—one day or one year or more. The key is to wean when you and your baby are ready.

This timeline is not supposed to serve as a guilt trip or put any extra pressure on new moms (we have enough of that!). Simply look at it as a source of inspiration, especially on those days when you just want to quit. Set a goal to breastfeed for at least the first three months and then mark milestones for moving forward.

Given the staggering benefits of breastfeeding, it’s worth pushing past the struggles you may experience at first—or anytime along the way. Ask for help from a lactation consultant when you need it and remember to take care of yourself.

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