A baby girl smiles and licks her mouth. She wears big black glasses.
Plenty of research over the years has suggested that breastfeeding could lead to a brainier baby. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

Over the years, there has been an abundance of research promoting the benefits of breastfeeding.

We’ve also learned a lot about breast milk itself. We know it has living cells called leukocytes, which help fight against infection—something baby formula simply can’t do.

We also know there are many reasons breastfeeding is good for babies, including:

  • They may experience fewer allergies and illnesses as a result of breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeeding may decrease the risk of SIDS by 50 percent.
  • Babies who breastfeed typically have a higher IQ. If a mom breastfeeds for 12 months, the IQ is 4 points higher, on average.
  • It’s the perfect nutrition because it changes as the baby changes. The fat, protein and other ingredients in breast milk change if the baby is sick, or as the baby grows.
  • It may decrease a baby’s chances of developing asthma.

And it’s not just baby who benefits—breastfeeding can be a boon to the new mom, too.

According to the World Health Organization: “Exclusive breastfeeding is recommended up to 6 months of age, with continued breastfeeding along with appropriate complementary foods up to 2 years of age or beyond.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics also recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months, “followed by continued breastfeeding as complementary foods are introduced, with continuation of breastfeeding for one year or longer as mutually desired by mother and infant. ”

A few years ago, researchers in Brazil made some fascinating discoveries about the critical role that breastfeeding plays in a baby’s mental, physical and emotional development.

The researchers followed about 6,000 babies from birth to age 30, studying how they fared as they grew. (It’s important to note that they were only able to follow up with about 3,500 of the participants after all those years.)

They ultimately found that the longer a child had been breastfed, the better the child ended up later in life. They earned more money, had more education and were more intelligent.

Great for mom

What benefits can a mom get from breastfeeding?

For starters, it can lower the chances of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It can also help the uterus get back to pre-pregnancy size, which can help with losing pregnancy weight.

Breastfeeding also releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps moms relax and sleep.

It can also help with endometriosis. I can attest to this from personal experience, because with my pregnancies, breastfeeding made endometriosis much easier to deal with.

I recently came across some information that points to possible benefits in other unforeseen areas.

I came across a 2013 study that said mothers who breastfeed their children may have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, “with longer periods of breastfeeding also lowering the overall risk.”

The study, published in the Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease, made some strong points. Two notable findings:

  • Women who breastfeed exhibit a reduced Alzheimer’s disease risk compared to women who did not breastfeed.
  • Longer breastfeeding history is associated with lower Alzheimer’s risk.

The outcome was less successful when women had a parent or sibling with dementia. There are some theories as to why this is, but more research will need to be done to find out for sure.

All another great reason for mom to breastfeed—and longer!