77 Surprising Breastfeeding Facts for Moms
At Huggable, we want all parents to feel good about how (and what!) they feed their baby. We also know that breast milk is an infant’s optimal first food and that any amount of breast milk a mom can or chooses to give their baby benefits them! We believe that “informed is best,” and we want parents to make their feeding decisions with relevant information at hand.
If you’ve ever wondered what makes breastfeeding beneficial for mothers and infants, read on! This collection of facts and statistics will explore some of the most interesting and incredible aspects of breastfeeding.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Babies
First and foremost, breast milk is the optimal source of nutrition for infants and toddlers as it contains inimitable properties that help babies grow.
Here are just a few:
- The antibodies in breast milk protect infants from common childhood illnesses. (WHO)
- Breastfeeding lowers the risk of stomach problems, ear infections, respiratory infections, childhood asthma, and diarrhea. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- It’s actually helpful for mothers to breastfeed even if they're feeling sick. During an illness, the human body produces antibodies that can be passed on to babies, preventing them from getting sick. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- When babies are sick, it’s thought that mammary gland receptors can identify pathogens in the baby’s “backwash” and develop antibodies to help treat the illness. (Kindred Bravely)
- Colostrum, the thick, sticky substance produced immediately after birth, provides the proteins, minerals, and antibodies that babies need before a mother’s milk comes in. Babies need just a few teaspoons of colostrum to get its benefits. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- There are special proteins in colostrum that protect an infant’s stomach from harmful bacteria. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- Colostrum also contains 10 times more beta-carotene than mature breast milk. It has increased levels of vitamin E and zinc to promote a newborn’s skin and eye development. (Kindred Bravely)
- “Good bacteria” are constantly transferred from a mother’s body to an infant through breast milk; the precise strains of bacteria fluctuate daily and from season to season. (Kindred Bravely)
- There are over 150 oligosaccharides in breast milk to ‘feed’ a baby’s gut microbiome. (Kindred Bravely)
- Breast milk contains helpful hormones such as:
- Melatonin (to help babies sleep)
- Leptin (to control weight, appetite and promote a healthy gut microbiome)
- Endorphins (to provide comfort and diminish pain)
- Thyroxine (to help the metabolism and intestines)
- Oxytocin (to decrease heart rate and blood pressure) (Kindred Bravely)
- Thanks to its antibodies, a few drops of breast milk can be used to help treat cuts, soothe diaper rash, or even help infants with eye and ear infections. (Today’s Parent)
- The composition of breast milk changes to accommodate the changing needs of growing babies. (Medela)
- Mothers of premature infants naturally produce breast milk with more protein, fat, and minerals in order to prevent illness and infection. Breast milk also helps preemies with brain development, including IQ and memory later in life. (Medela)
- The taste of breast milk changes slightly, based on the mother’s diet. This helps babies get used to different tastes and prepares them to eat a variety of solid foods. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
The Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mothers
The benefits of breast milk for infant development are well known, but scientists are just beginning to discover the marvelous ways in which breastfeeding can have a positive impact on a mother’s body and health.
Here’s how breastfeeding promotes good health in moms:
- Breastfeeding can reduce a woman’s risk of postpartum depression, due to the release of “feel-good” hormone oxytocin. (WHO)
- The longer a woman breastfeeds, the better the lifetime benefits for reducing breast cancer, ovarian cancer, stroke, heart disease, and diabetes risk. (Medela)
- Specifically, for every year that a mother breastfeeds, her risk of breast cancer is reduced by 6%. (Today’s Parent)
- The hormones released while breastfeeding help to shrink the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- Exclusive breastfeeding can burn up to 600 calories a day. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- The healing properties of breast milk can be used to soothe dry and cracked nipples. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- The brain releases oxytocin and prolactin hormones during breastfeeding, encouraging mothers to bond with their babies, and easing stress and anxiety. (Medela)
U.S. Statistics on Breastfeeding
The decision to breastfeed is a complex topic in the United States, with significant variation in breastfeeding initiation and duration based on a wide range of factors, including geographic location, socioeconomic status, maternal age and education, and job status. It’s important to note that the U.S. is the only “developed nation” without mandated parental leave. (Pew Research Center)
Encouragingly, U.S. breastfeeding rates have been on the rise over the past decade, with an increase of nearly 10% nationally and in most states between 2007 and 2016.
For U.S. babies born in 2016:
- 83.8% were breastfed at some point.
- 47.5% were exclusively breastfed for 3 months.
- 25.4% were exclusively breastfed for 6 months.
- 57.3% were still being breastfed (not necessarily exclusively) at 6 months.
- 36.25% were still being breastfed (not exclusively) at 1 year. (CDC)
Breastfeeding Rates Are Impacted by Geography
According to the CDC, breastfeeding rates are markedly different in some areas of the country:
- Babies in urban areas are more likely to ever be breastfed than those in rural areas
- Babies in the southeastern U.S. are the least likely to ever be breastfed.
- There are seven U.S. states where 70% or more of infants in the state are being breastfed (not necessarily exclusively) at 6 months: Alaska, Hawaii, Washington, Oregon, Utah, Minnesota, and Vermont
- There are three U.S. states where less than 40% of infants in the state are being breastfed (not necessarily exclusively) at 6 months: Arkansas, Mississippi, and West Virginia
- Oregon has the highest percentage (93.5%) of babies who are ever breastfed
- Mississippi has the lowest percentage (63.4%) of babies who are ever breastfed
Breastfeeding Rates Are Impacted by Race and Ethnicity
In the United States, there are racial and ethnic disparities relating to breastfeeding.
- 88.2% of Asian-American infants are ever breastfed.
- 86.6% of Caucasian infants are ever breastfed.
- 82.9% of Hispanic infants are ever breastfed.
- 74% of African-American infants are ever breastfed. (CDC)
Breastfeeding Rates Are Impacted by Socioeconomic Status
- For mothers who make less than the U.S. poverty threshold, 74.5% ever breastfed their babies, and only 43% breastfeed for at least 6 months.
- For mothers who earn at least 600% of the U.S. poverty threshold, 93.5% ever breastfeed their babies, and 74.3% breastfeed for at least 6 months. (CDC)
Breastfeeding Rates Are Impacted by Maternal Education
- For mothers who did not graduate from high school, 70.5% ever breastfed their babies, and 41.4% breastfeed for at least 6 months.
- For mothers who graduated from college, 93.4% ever breastfeed their babies, and 73.9% breastfeed for at least 6 months. (CDC)
Breastfeeding Rates Are Impacted by Maternal Age
- In the U.S., mothers who are over age 30 are more likely to ever breastfeed (86.3%) than mothers aged 20-29 (80%). (CDC)
Global Statistics on Breastfeeding
Although the vast majority of babies around the world are breastfed at some point in their young lives, each country seems to have its own approach to breastfeeding. Interestingly, breastfeeding tends to be more prevalent in low- and middle-income countries, though certain high-income countries stand out for their generous parental leave policies and high rates of breastfeeding.
Globally, 95% of babies are breastfed at some point in their lives. (UNICEF)
- However, only 40% of infants under the age of six months are exclusively breastfed. (WHO)
- Only 44% of newborns are breastfed within one hour of birth. ( UNICEF)
Breastfeeding is more common in low- and middle-income countries than in high-income countries, perhaps due to the cost associated with formula feeding and concerns about clean water sources:
- In low- and middle-income countries, one in 25 infants is never breastfed. (UNICEF)
- In high-income countries, one in five infants is never breastfed. (UNICEF)
There is a significant variation in breastfeeding rates across European countries, and this seems to correlate with the length of paid parental leave:
- Norway, Sweden, and Finland have some of Europe’s highest rates of babies who were ever breastfed, at 92% or above. (UNICEF)
- France and Ireland have some of Europe’s lowest rates of babies who were ever breastfed, at 63% or below. (UNICEF)
- In Norway, where there are 36 weeks of paid maternity leave, 99% of mothers ever breastfeed and 80% breastfeed in some way at 6 months. (Pew Research Center)
- In Sweden, where there are 48 weeks of paid maternity leave, 98% of mothers ever breastfeed and 72% breastfeed in some way at 6 months. (Pew Research Center)
Obstacles to Breastfeeding
While breastfeeding is recognized as having myriad benefits for both mothers and children, it is not always straightforward. Not all women have the support they need to initiate and continue breastfeeding. From medical issues to family life to work demands, there are many factors that influence a mother's likelihood to breastfeed.
In the United States, 60% of mothers don’t breastfeed for as long as they had planned. (CDC)
The main reasons they don’t continue include:
- Latching problems
- Concerns about infant nutrition/weight
- Work situation
- Lack of family support
- Cultural reasons
- Concerns about maternal medications
- Unsupportive medical practitioners (CDC)
Paid maternity leave and working in an accommodating office environment are also major factors that influence whether a mother is likely to breastfeed, and continue breastfeeding. (Quartz)
Only 49% of employers in the U.S. currently provide an on-site lactation/mother’s room. (CDC)
Additionally, up to 10% of babies are born with tongue-tie, which makes it difficult to latch. (Today’s Parent)
9 Amazing Facts About Breastfeeding:
There are so many incredible facts about breastfeeding and breast milk that it would be impossible to list them all. Here are ten of the most interesting!
- Although babies are born very nearsighted, they are able to see their mother’s face when breastfeeding (up to 15 inches away). They can also smell their mother’s breast milk. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- A mother’s body can adapt to the demands of how many babies she ends up feeding, whether that’s twins, triplets, or even bigger multiples! (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- Breast milk changes over the course of a feeding session, from a watery substance with 1% milkfat (foremilk) to a thicker, fattier substance with 5% milkfat (hindmilk). (Kindred Bravely)
- Not only does the smell and taste of breast milk change depending on a mother’s diet, but the color can change too -- blue, green, yellow, pink, and orange hues are all possible! (Medela)
- The size and shape of a woman’s breasts typically have no impact on how much milk she can produce. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- A newborn’s stomach is roughly the size of an almond the first 2 days, so producing enough milk to satisfy a new baby is not usually an issue. (HHS: Office on Women’s Health)
- Breast milk contains stem cells, which can go on to become heart, kidney, or brain tissue. (Medela)
- A lactating mother’s breasts can leak if she thinks about her baby, or even if she hears another baby cry. (Today’s Parent)
- Colostrum contains between one million and five million white blood cells per milliliter (at least 100 times the concentration of white blood cells in blood). At six months postpartum, breast milk still contains around 100,000 white blood cells per mL. (Kindred Bravely)
Although breastfeeding is frequently presented as the most natural thing in the world, it’s often far from straightforward! Reading about how and when to breastfeed can be of real benefit to women who are embarking on the experience, whether it’s their first pregnancy or their fifth. The Office on Women’s Health at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services offers breastfeeding information and support for expectant and new mothers.
- Ideally, babies should be breastfed within the first hour of life. (UNICEF)
- If possible, it’s recommended for babies to be exclusively breastfed for the first six months. (UNICEF)
- After six months, a baby’s nutritional needs exceed what breast milk can provide, so solid/semi-solid/soft foods should start being introduced. (UNICEF)
- If possible, it’s beneficial for babies to be breastfed for two years (or more), in combination with solid foods. (UNICEF)