The health benefits of breastfeeding are well established in literature and also in history. Let's face it, babies have been breastfed since the beginning of time.
Improved resistance to infectious illness:
Breastfeeding provides the infant with many immunological benefits and protects against infectious diseases. The mother's immune system is more mature than a baby's. Over time the mother has had the opportunity to build resistance to many disease causing pathogens. This protection is passed to the infant in the form of antibodies in breastmilk. Colostrum is particularly high in antibodies.
Mother's pick up microorganisms from their infants through their close physical contact and produce antibodies to any possible pathogens the baby might have picked up. In this way breastfeeding provides the baby with an ongoing external source of antibodies, that his own immune system is too immature to produce.
Breastfeeding promotes the elimination of meconium which is the substance that is in the baby's intestines from life in the uterus.
Unlike commercially prepared formula the composition of breastmilk changes over the lifetime of the breastfeeding relationship and in this way breastmilk meets the baby's nutritional needs at every stage of life.
In addition breastmilk provides several protective factors for the infant's digestive system that protects against diarrhea type illnesses.
The baby's close physical contact with the mother through breastfeeding provides inoculation with the beneficial bacteria the infant needs to colonize the gut. These microorganisms provide the raw materials necessary for the manufacture of certain vitamins and the digestion of solid foods when the baby's digestion tract is more mature.
Early protection from allergies:
A baby cannot be allergic to breastmilk. The protein of breastmilk is "species specific" and therefore the baby cannot be allergic to it. During the first few weeks of life the baby's gut lining is immature and permeable meaning it will allow certain large molecules (like protein) to leak from the gut. If these proteins enter the infant's immature immune system allergies are a possible result.
Breastfeeding protects against this by providing the infant with a substance called secretory IGA. This immunoglobulin in colostrum and breastmilk prevents the absorption of very large foreign molecules when the infant's immune system is immature.
The health benefits of breastfeeding are well known and pediatricians now recommend that breastfeeding be the main source of nutrition for the infant for the first year. The advantages of breastfeeding are so well established scientifically that it is recommended that breastfeeding continue well into the second year of life.