Breastfeeding emotional benefits

Psychological effects of breastfeeding on children and mothers

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Psychological Benefits of Breastfeeding for You and Baby

Written by WebMD Editorial Contributors

In this Article

  • Benefits of Breastfeeding
  • Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby

Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is a natural and beautiful process that helps create intimacy and bonding between mom and baby. The connection and bonding felt during this nurturing embrace can provide beneficial psychological effects, like lowering stress and increasing feelings of calm.

Benefits of Breastfeeding

Besides the experience of emotional bonding, there are numerous other psychological benefits to breastfeeding.

Stress. Inflammation is part of the body’s stress response, and when inflammation levels are high, people are more likely to experience depression. Breastfeeding can help lower the mother’s inflammation levels. Lowered inflammation can also lower the risk of heart disease and diabetes.

Sleep. One of the biggest, and maybe most surprising, psychological benefits of breastfeeding is better sleep. In fact, mothers who only breastfeed may find that they fall asleep easier, stay asleep longer, and sleep more deeply.

Hormone boost. When you breastfeed, your body makes the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Oxytocin produces a peaceful, nurturing feeling that allows you to relax and focus on your child. It also promotes a strong sense of love and attachment between you and your baby.

Increased calmness. Breastfeeding can also support your baby’s physical and emotional wellness. Breastfed babies cry less overall and have fewer incidences of childhood illness.

Physical and emotional bonding. Breastfeeding creates a bonding experience between mother and child because it promotes skin-to-skin contact, more holding and stroking. Many experts say that affectionate bonding during the first years of life helps lessen social and behavioral problems in both children and adults.

Breastfeeding can also help mothers learn to read their infant’s cues and can help babies learn to trust caregivers. This helps shape a baby’s early behavior.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby

Breastfeeding can give the mother peace of mind that her breast milk is helping keep her baby happy and healthy. For instance, when babies breastfeed, they have:

  • Stronger immune systems
  • Fewer diarrhea, constipation, and digestive issues
  • Lower levels of acid reflux disease and stomach inflammation
  • Lower risk of preterm necrotizing enterocolitis (a serious intestinal disease in babies that happens when tissue in the small or large intestine is injured or inflamed)
  • Fewer colds and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, whooping cough, and other respiratory virus infections
  • Fewer ear infections, which can damage hearing
  • Fewer cases of bacterial meningitis (an inflammation of brain and spinal cord membranes, typically caused by an infection)
  • Better vision and less risk of developing blindness
  • Lower rates of infant death
  • Lower rates of sudden infant death syndrome
  • Less illness overall, with less likelihood of hospitalization

In addition to providing physical benefits through critical nutrients, research shows that breastfeeding also has a deep and lasting effect on thought and understanding, behavior, and mental health in children. For instance, babies who are breastfed are likely to have:

  • Stronger critical thinking and reasoning skills 
  • Better memory
  • Early language ability
  • Enhanced motor skills ‌
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The benefits of breastfeeding | Medela

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Benefits of breastfeeding for baby

1 Victora CG et al . Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms, and lifelong effect . Lancet . 2016;387(10017):475-490. - Victor S.J. et al., "Breastfeeding in the 21st century: epidemiology, mechanisms and long-term effects". Lancet (Lancet). 2016;387(10017):475-490.

2 Bode L et al . It’s alive: microbes and cells in human milk and their potential benefits to mother and infant . Adv Nutr . 2014;5(5):571-573. "It's Alive: Breastmilk Microbes and Cells and Their Potential Benefits for Mother and Baby." Adv Nutr. 2014;5(5):571-573.

3 Ballard O , Marrow AL . Human milk composition: nutrients and bioactive factors . Pediatr Clin North Am . 2013;60(1):49-74. - Ballard O., Morrow A.L., "Composition of breast milk: nutrients and biologically active factors." Pediatrician Clean North Am. 2013;60(1):49-74.

4 Ladomenou F et al Protective effect of exclusive breastfeeding against infections during infancy: a prospective study. Arch Dis Child . 2010; 95(12):1004-1008. - Ladomenu, F. et al., "The effect of exclusive breastfeeding on infection protection in infancy: a prospective study." nine0004 Arch Dis Child. 2010;95(12):1004-1008.

5 Vennemann MM et al. Does breastfeeding reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome? Pediatrics. 2009;123(3): e 406-410. - Wennemann M.M. et al., "Does Breastfeeding Reduce the Risk of Sudden Infant Death?" Pediatrix (Pediatrics). 2009;123(3):e406-e410.

6 Hassiotou F et al. Maternal and infant infections stimulate a rapid leukocyte response in breastmilk. Clinic Transl Immunology . 2013;2(4): e 3. - Hassiot F. et al., "Infectious diseases of the mother and child stimulate a rapid leukocyte reaction in breast milk." Clean Transl Immunology. 2013;2(4):e3.

7 Harrison D et al. Breastfeeding for procedural pain in infants beyond the neonatal period. Cochrane Database Syst Rev . 2016;10: CD 011248. - Harrison D. et al., "Breastfeeding for Relief of Medical Pain in the Neonatal Period." Cochrane Database of System Rev. 2014; 10: CD 11248

8 JOHNSON TJ ET . Economic benefits and costs of human milk feedings: a strategy to reduce the risk of prematurity-related morbidities in very-low-birth-weight infants. Adv Nutr . 2014;5(2):207-212. — Johnson T.J. et al., Economic Benefits and Costs of Breastfeeding: A Strategy for Reducing the Risk of Preterm Complications in Extremely Low Birth Weight Infants. Adv. 2014;5(2):207-212.

9 Schanler RJ et al. Randomized trial of donor human milk versus preterm formula as substitutes for mothers' own milk in the feeding of extremely premature infants. Pediatrics . 2005;116(2):400-406. - Chanler R.J. et al., "Randomized Trial of Donor Human Milk Versus Prematurity Formula as a Breast Milk Substitute in Severely Preterm Infants". Pediatrix (Pediatrics). 2005;116(2):400-406. nine0004

10 Brown A, Harries V. Infant sleep and night feeding patterns during later infancy: association with breastfeeding frequency, daytime complementary food intake, and infant weight. Breastfeed Med . 2015;10(5):246-252. - Brown A., Harris W., "Night feedings and infant sleep in the first year of life and their association with feeding frequency, daytime supplementation, and infant weight." Brest Med (Breastfeeding Medicine). 2015;10(5):246-252. nine0004

11 Sánchez CL et al. The possible role of human milk nucleotides as sleep inducers. Nutr Neurosci . 2009;12(1):2-8. - Sanchez S.L. et al., "Nucleotides in breast milk may help the baby fall asleep." Nutr Neurosai. 2009;12(1):2-8.

12 Dekaban AS. Changes in brain weights during the span of human life: relation of brain weights to body heights and body weights. Ann Neurol . 1978 4(4):345-356. - Dekaban A.S., "Change in the weight of the human brain throughout life: the relationship of brain weight with height and body weight." Ann Neurol. 1978 4(4):345-356.

13 Deoni SC et al. Breastfeeding and early white matter development: A cross-sectional study. Neuroimage . 2013;82:77-86. - Deoni S.S. et al., Breastfeeding and early white matter development: a cross-sectional study. nine0004 Neuroimaging. 2013;82:77-86.

14 Straub N et al. Economic impact of breast-feeding-associated improvements of childhood cognitive development, based on data from the ALSPAC. Br J Nutr . 2016:1-6. - Straub N. et al., "Economic Impact of Breastfeeding-Associated Cognitive Development in the Child (According to ALSPAC )". Br J Nutr. 2016;1-6. nine0004

15 Victora CG et al. Association between breastfeeding and intelligence, educational attainment, and income at 30 years of age: a prospective birth cohort study from Brazil. Lancet Glob Health . 2015; 3(4): e 199-205. - Victor S.J. and co-authors, "Relationship between breastfeeding and intelligence, educational attainment and income level at age 30: a prospective cohort study in Brazil." nine0004 Lancet Globe Health. 2015; 3(4):e199-205.

16 Horta BL, Victora CG. Breastfeeding and adult intelligence – Authors’ reply. Lancet Glob Health . 2015;3(9): e 522. - Horta B.L., Victora S.J., "Breastfeeding and intelligence in adulthood - Author's response". Lancet Globe Health. 2015;3(9):e522.

17 Belkind-Gerson J et al. nine0004 Fatty acids and neurodevelopment. J Pediatr Gastroenterol Nutr. 2008;47 Suppl 1:7-9 - Belkind-Gerson, J. et al., "Fatty acids and brain development." J Pediatrician Gastroenterol Nutr. 2008;47 Appendix 1:7-9

18 Heikkilä K et al. Breast feeding and child behavior in the Millennium Cohort Study. Arch Dis Child . 2011;96(7):635-642. - Heikkila K. et al., Breastfeeding and Child Behavior in a Millennial Cohort Study. nine0004 Arch Dis Child. 2011;96(7):635-642.

19 Tharner A et al. Breastfeeding and its relation to maternal sensitivity and infant attachment. J Dev Behav Pediatr . 2012;33(5):396-404. — Tarner, A. et al., "Breastfeeding and its relation to maternal sensitivity and infant attachment." J Dev Behave Pediatrician. 2012;33(5):396-404. nine0004

20 Montgomery SM et al. Breast feeding and resilience against psychosocial stress. Arch Dis Child . 2006;91(12):990-994. - Montgomery S.M. et al., Breastfeeding and resilience to psychosocial stress. Arch Dis Child. 2006;91(12):990-994.

21 Bener A et al. Does continued breastfeeding reduce the risk for childhood leukemia and lymphomas? Minerva Pediatr. nine0004 2008;60(2):155-161. - Bener A. et al., "Does long-term breastfeeding reduce the risk of leukemia and lymphoma in a child?". Minerva Pediatrician. 2008;60(2):155-161.

22 Singhal A et al. Infant nutrition and stereoacuity at age 4-6 y. Am J Clin Nutr . 2007;85(1):152-159. - Singhal A. et al., Nutrition in infancy and stereoscopic visual acuity at 4-6 years of age. nine0004 Am F Clean Nutr. 2007;85(1):152-159.

23 Peres KG et al. Effect of breastfeeding on malocclusions: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatr . 2015;104(467):54-61. - Perez K.G. et al., "The impact of breastfeeding on malocclusion: a systematic review and meta-analysis". Akta Pediatr. 2015;104(S467):54-61.

24 Horta BL et al. Long-term consequences of breastfeeding on cholesterol, obesity, systolic blood pressure and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Acta Paediatr . 2015; 104(467):30-37 - Horta B.L. et al., "Long-term effects of breastfeeding and their impact on cholesterol, obesity, systolic blood pressure, and type 2 diabetes: a systematic review and meta-analysis.

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