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LLLI Center for Breastfeeding Information

Breastfeeding Facts

The following facts are compiled by the Center for Breastfeeding Information (CBI) at La Leche League International. One fact per year is highlighted as it gives information that was significant that year. The CBI is one of the world's largest libraries of breastfeeding information.


The WHO Child Growth Standards.

The World Heath Organization has completed its redrawing of the charts that establish "normal" growth patterns in children aged 0-5 years. This reassessment of the standards that have been used for decades corrects many of the errors that have long been apparent to those in the breastfeeding community.Of primary significance is that these new standards are based on "the way children should grow" instead of the way they actually grow. For the first time, the feeding of human milk is defined as the normative standard and those children who are fed breastmilk are regarded as the standard by which children fed artificial baby milk are measured instead of the other way around. Acta Pædiatrica 45; 2006 (4): 1-106, Suppl. 450


Despite federal promotion and funding, the breastfeeding message has been delayed and altered.

A three-year United States government campaign was launched in June 2004 aimed at parents who would not normally choose breastmilk for infant feeding. This campaign was delayed in its launch date and altered in its message due to political pressures from those concerned about anti-formula messages. Those who stand to profit or lose from decisions women make on their infants' nutrition have blocked bringing evidence to the public consciousness. Lowe NK. Health promotion begins at the breast. J Obstet Gynecol Neonatal Nurs. 2004 May/Jun;33(3):297.


Infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months.

It is a global public health recommendation that infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development, and health and should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond.
World Health Organization. Global strategy on infant and young child feeding. 2002-4;13.10.


Support from family members, employers, and the media makes a significant difference in the success of the breastfeeding mother.

Print media contributes to the perception that formula feeding is the norm. Representations of breasts as sexual objects in the media powerfully interact with beliefs about the inappropriateness of breastfeeding in public. The opinion of the father can either support or dissuade a woman's decision to breastfeed. The grandmother can also play a key role in a mother's choice to breastfeed. To achieve the Healthy People 2010 goals, there must be a shift in cultural norms and structures at all levels to support breastfeeding for all women.
Bentley, M.E. et al. Breastfeeding among low income, African-American women:power, beliefs and decision making. J. Nutrition 2003: 133:305S-9S.

Research shows a relationship between breastfeeding and weight control later in life.

There are three possible explanations for an association between breastfeeding and reduced risk of obesity at an older age. Breastfed infants may self-regulate their intake; breastfed infants have lower plasma insulin levels, which stimulates greater adipose tissue deposition; and breastfed infants have an increased level of leptin, a protein hormone in human milk. Leptin is thought to be a key regulator of appetite and body fatness. In reviewing 11 studies, 8 showed a lower risk of obesity in children who had been breastfed.
Dewey, K.G. Is breastfeeding protective against child obesity? J Human Lact 2003; 19 (1) 9-18.


Support from health professionals and lay counselors make a significant difference in outcomes for the breastfeeding mother and her baby.

In a survey conducted by the Australian Breastfeeding Association (Formerly NMAA), there were five areas of need as defined by mothers' reports: reassurance (58.6%), feed frequency (26.5%), positioning and attachment (18.1%), looking after yourself (16.3 %) and fatigue/tiredness (15.3%). Peer counseling by skilled, trained women with supportive resources can build confidence as well as help mothers overcome technical difficulties, such as low milk supply.
Grieve, V. and Howarth, T. The counseling needs of women. Breastfeeding review 2000; 8 (2):9-15.

Breastfeeding is protective against SIDS

While it is unclear why breastfeeding is protective against SIDS it is clear that breastfed infants are healthier than their bottle-fed counterparts. Possibilities are the protective effect of IgA on bacterial toxins, the presence of long chain polyunsaturated fatty acids, faster development of the central nervous system, and the benefit of tactile stimulation during night feeds.
Kum-Nji, al. Reducing the incidence of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome in the delta region of Mississippi: A three-pronged approach. South Med J 2001-7; 94 (&); 704-10.


Human milk supports optimal infant growth and development, with many benefits extending well beyond infancy.

Breastfeeding for eight months or more resulted in a significant increase in the verbal and performance IQ scores in children at 7-8 years. Breast milk provides some long-term cognitive benefits.
Horwood, L. J. et al. Breast milk feedings and cognitive ability at 7-8 years. Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed

In identifying environmental factors impacting the onset of Type 1 Diabetes, exclusive breastfeeding immediately after birth was significantly protective, decreasing the risk of childhood diabetes.
McKinney, P.A. et al. Perinatal and neonatal determinants of Childhood Type 1 Diabetes. Diabetes Care 1999; 22 (6):938-32.


There are unique immune factors present in human milk that protect the infant and benefit society by reduced health care costs.

In reviewing office visits for lower respiratory tract illness, otitis media and gastrointestinal illness between never breastfed and exclusively breastfed infants for the first three months of life, there were 2,033 excess office visits, 212 excess days of hospitalization, and 609 excess prescriptions for those never breastfed. The extra cost is between $331 and $475 per never breastfed infant from a managed health care system.
Ball, T.M. & Wright, A.L. Health care costs of formula-feeding in the first year of life. Pediatrics 1999; 103 (4):


Breastfeeding provides life-long advantages.

Helicobacter pylori is recognized as a major cause of gastric cancer, gastritis, and peptic ulcer disease in adults and is thought to be acquired in childhood. Adults who were breastfed in infancy were less likely to be seropositive for Helicobacter pylori than others not breastfed.
Fall, C.H.D. et al, Growth in infancy, infant feeding, childhood living conditions, & Helicobacter pylori Infection at age 70. Arch Dis Child 1997; 77(4); 310-14.


Breastfeeding provides maternal protection against breast cancer and osteoporosis.

Breastfeeding for at least 16 months substantially reduced the premenopausal breast cancer risk of women who were not treated for nausea or vomiting of pregnancy.
Enger, S.M. et al. Breastfeeding hisotry, pregnancy experience and risk of breast cancer. Br J Cancer 1997; 76(1);118-23.

Supplemental calcium does not prevent bone loss during lactation and does not benefit lactating women more than non-lactating women. Bone density increases after weaning both in women who receive calcium supplementation and in those who do not.
Kalkwart, H.J. et al. The effect of calcium supplementation on bone density during lactation and after weaning. N Eng J Med 1997;337(8)523-28.

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