It’s good for the baby, of course, and breastfeeding gives natural protection against a range of diseases such as leukaemia, ear infections, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, gastrointestinal infections, lower respiratory tract infections, obesity and SIDS, or sudden infant death syndrome.
The most protective benefits are to be had when the mother breastfeeds for at least the recommended time of six months exclusively, and for 12 months with some solids. Unfortunately, many mothers aren’t coming close to the guidelines, and 22 per cent of new mothers in the US are returning to work just 10 days after the birth, say researchers at the University of North Carolina.
The protective effects of breastfeeding surprised the researchers who researched two groups of mothers, one which breastfed according to the recommended guidelines, and another which breastfed for a far shorter period.
The researchers estimate that breastfeeding for a short period results in 3,340 premature deaths in the US every year, and costs the American healthcare system more than $4.3bn a year in treating diseases that could have been prevented by extended breastfeeding.
It's a strong argument for more paid leave for new mothers, say the researchers.