Reduction in illness and improved health | Kia heke te taumaha, kia piki te ora

For infants, breastfeeding supports the development of a healthy immune system, and works as a protective factor against sudden unexplained death in infancy (Victora et al 2016). Breastfeeding can reduce respiratory, gastrointestinal and acute ear infections, type 1and 2 diabetes and obesity (Stuebe 2009). Women who breastfeed are less likely to experience postpartum haemorrhage, postpartum weight retention and depression Victora et al 2016; Stuebe 2009). Additionally, breastfeeding works as a protective factor against many chronic illnesses, including invasive breast cancer, ovarian cancer, hyperlipidaemia, hypertension, cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes (Victora et al 2016).

Recent epidemiological and biological research expands on the known benefits of breastfeeding for parents and children (Benjamin 2011; Victora et al 2016). These include epigenetic benefits, reducing vulnerability to chronic illness and conditions (Binns et al 2016; Eidelman 2019), and supporting gut microbiota in health and diseases such as allergies (Van den Elsen et al 2019).


Increasing breastfeeding exclusivity and duration may reduce the risk of a range of poor health outcomes (Victora et al. 2016; Stuebe 2009), such as:

  • respiratory infections
  • type 2 diabetes
  • gastroenteritis
  • otitis media
  • obesity
  • sudden unexpected death in infancy.

Additional resources
He rauemi anō

Breastfeeding parent

Breastfeeding promotes maternal health. Women who breastfeed experience lower rates of postpartum haemorrhage, postpartum weight retention and depression (Victora et al. 2016; Stuebe 2009). Benefits to mental health include increases in maternal sensitivity, the ability to cope with stress and improved sleep (Kendall-Tackett 2017).

Breastfeeding positively contributes to maternal mental health and wellbeing, and protects against many chronic illnesses, such as:

  • invasive breast cancer
  • uterine cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • type 2 diabetes
  • osteoporosis and reduced bone density in later life.

Additional resources
He rauemi anō


Benjamin M. 2011. Public health in action: Give mothers support for breastfeeding. Public Health Reports. 126(5): 622–3.

Binns C, Lee M, Low W. 2016. The long-term public health benefits of breastfeeding. Asia Pacific Journal of Public Health. 28(1): 7–14.

Eidelman A. 2019. Epigenetic basis for the beneficial effect of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding Medicine. 14(2): 79.

Kendall-Tackett K. 2017. Rethinking depression in new mothers: Current research trends and their implications for practice. Clinical Lactation. 8(1): 5–7.

Mueller N, Backacs E, Combellic J, et al. 2015. The infant microbiome development: Mom matters. Trends in Molecular Medicine. 21(2): 109–17.

Omotomilola A, Whyte B, Chalmers J, et al. 2015. Breastfeeding is associated with reduced childhood hospitalization: Evidence from a Scottish birth cohort (1997–2009). The Journal of Pediatrics. 166(3): 620–5.

Pannaraj P, Li F, Cerini C. 2017. Association between breast milk bacterial communities and establishment and development of the infant gut microbiome. JAMA Pediatrics. 71(7): 647–54.

Stuebe A. 2009. The risks of not breastfeeding for mothers and infants. Reviews in Obstetrics & Gynecology. 2(4): 222–31.

Stuebe A, Kleinman K, Gillma M, et al. 2010. Duration of lactation and maternal metabolism at 3 years postpartum. Journal of Women’s Health. 19(5): 941–50.

Van den Elsen L, Garssen J, Burcelin R et al. 2019. Shaping the gut microbiota by breastfeeding: The gateway to allergy prevention? Frontiers in Pediatrics. 7(47).

Victora C, Bahl R, Barros A, et al. 2016. Breastfeeding in the 21st century: Epidemiology, mechanisms and lifelong effect. The Lancet. 387(10017): 475–90.

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