Infant - Breastfeeding
Author: TLN

The Benefits of Breastfeeding: A Timeline for the Ages

Updated May 2020

We’re breaking down the benefits of breastfeeding by month so you can stay motivated through each milestone

Breastfeeding is more than the act of just feeding your little one. It also provides an incredible number of health benefits to both you and your baby—in addition to all the money saved on formula. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics and the World Health Organization both recommend breastfeeding for the first six months and then continuing to breastfeed for one year or longer, as desired by mom and baby. Whether you breastfeed for four months, nine months, a year or more, you’ll give your baby and yourself a priceless gift with effects that carry over into the years to come. Breastfeeding also helps our society as a whole by reducing healthcare costs, environmental waste and the need for maternal sick days. Here is a timeline of the key health benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby to keep you motivated, even when things get tough:

Benefits of Breastfeeding Timeline of Breastfeeding

A few days

Colostrum—that thick liquid gold you produce for three to four days after your baby’s born—provides antibodies, serving as the first “immunization” for your baby. It also supplies the perfect nutrition at a slow rate while they learn to nurse. In these early days, colostrum stabilizes your baby’s blood sugars, kick-starts the digestive system and contributes to their mental development. But the benefits don’t end there: Breastfeeding also helps you recover physically from giving birth by causing your uterus to contract back to its normal size. Finally, all that skin-to-skin contact between mom and baby creates a perfect environment for quality bonding and has its own list of advantages. Remember, if you experience any trouble in these early days and beyond, request a consultation with a lactation consultant for extra support. They’re here to help you deliver quality nutrition to your baby.

Four to six weeks

After the first few weeks, you will probably be past some of those early challenges like latching issues and pain, and you’ll have an established milk supply. This period is the most critical time for building baby’s immune system. As your little one grows, your breast milk adapts to their needs, providing nutrients that are perfect for their developmental state. At this stage, breast milk helps prevent digestive issues and chest infections while providing the nutrition they need to reach those early growth markers. A perk of breastfeeding for mom: 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 quicker and easier.

Two months

Research has found that breastfeeding for any duration of time lowers the risk of SIDS by 60 percent while breastfeeding for a longer period only increases the positive effect. Babies breastfed until two months of age and older had a 62 percent lower risk of SIDS, while babies who were exclusively breastfed during the same time period had a 73 percent lower risk. After two months of breastfeeding, your baby may also have a reduced risk for food allergies. When it comes to benefits for moms, breastfeeding burns about 500 extra calories a day, and may 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!).

Three to four months

Three to four months of breastfeeding protects your little one against asthma for the first two years of their life while breastfeeding for longer periods of time offers protection that extends past five years. Studies have also shown that exclusive breastfeeding for four months lowers your baby’s risk of chest infection and diarrhea as their digestive and immune systems continue to develop. As for maternal benefits, breastfeeding moms experience lower rates of postpartum depression up to four months after giving birth. The act of breastfeeding may also help moms recover more quickly from these symptoms.

Six months

Good news for you, mom! Breastfeeding exclusively for six months lowers your baby’s risk for ear, nose, throat and sinus infections past infancy and may protect against autoimmune disease and respiratory allergies as well. After six months of breastfeeding, your baby also has a 19 percent lower risk for childhood leukemia. Finally, studies have linked breastfeeding with improved cognitive development that extends into childhood. They often develop motor skills at an earlier age and may be less likely to have emotional and behavioral problems. For moms, the advantages of breastfeeding for six months include a lower risk of type 2 diabetes—even decades later, and this includes moms who experienced gestational diabetes with pregnancy too.

Nine months

Your breast milk has helped drive your baby’s physical development and continues to fuel them as they become 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. If you go to work, spending this quality time with your little one when you return home encourages one-on-one bonding. Plus, establishing a routine gives you both to look forward to after a day of separation.

One year

If you’ve breastfed for one year, you have officially saved big bucks on formula—some estimates range from $1,500 to $3,000. 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. Breastfed babies are also less likely to need orthodontia and speech therapy because the sucking and pausing patterns particular to breastfeeding lead to greater oral development. It also influences the airway and shape of the roof of the mouth.

For moms, 12 cumulative months of breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer. However, the benefits double for moms with a lifetime total of two years breastfeeding. Recent studies have found that breastfeeding also lowers a mom’s risk of high cholesterol, high blood pressure and heart disease, which reduces the risk for stroke and heart attack.

The benefits of breast milk extend beyond the first year. Of course, it’s up to you how long you want to breastfeed—one month 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—and celebrate!—your milestones for moving forward.

Given the incredible long-term 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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