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).

Children I Tamariki

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 I Ūkaipō

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.