Protection during breastfeeding Protection after weaning Protection in later life
GI and respiratory infections GI and respiratory infections Obesity
Urinary infections Wheezing Type 1 and 2 diabetes
Sepsis and meningitis Coeliac disease Leukaemia/Lymphoma
Atopic dermatits Growth faltering Inflammatory bowel disease
Food allergies Visual acuity  
Necrotizing enterocolitis    
Growth faltering    
Coeliac disease    
Visual acuity    


Breastfeeding can have a significant impact on the health of a neonate, child, and the adult they become in later life. A recent paper by The Lancet suggests that the deaths of 823'000 children and 20'000 mothers could be averted each year through universal breastfeeding. 2,3

This is the result of a combination of factors including fewer infections, protection against obesity and diabetes, and the cancer prevention element for mothers. The table below highlights some key diseases and the preventative effect of an infant who is receiving breastmilk.

Infant Macaque monkey breastfeeding. Lactation is a crucial and defining aspect of being a mammal.

Infant bottle feeding. A positive of bottle feeding is that it can give other family members an opportunity to be involved in the feeding of the infant. This can also be done, however, with expressed breast milk.

Both mothers and infants benefit from breastfeeding. 823'000 child and 20'000 maternal deaths could be prevented through universal breastfeeding. 2, 3

Figure 1 and 2. Show how the maternal mucosal immune system connects to maternal exocrine glands, including the mammary glands.


•Human milk therefore protects the infant not only by interfering with microbial pathogens but also by inhibiting inflammation and stimulating the development of key components of the infant’s defence system.

Are there any situations where breastfeeding or breastmilk is not recommended?

There are very few situations where a baby needs artificial formula milk rather than human milk, or where other milks might be important. These include:


1) Babies with rare metabolic disorders where specialised milk might be needed in order to avoid specific substances e.g.  infants with galactosaemia who need to avoid lactose. Specialist advice is available from specialist dieticians.

2) Mothers receiving chemotherapy or very high dose steroids. However, breastfeeding is often possible with many chemotherapeutic drugs and steroids. Specialist advice is available.

3) Newborn babies who are at risk of hypoglycemia and where there is insufficient mother's own breastmilk. In these cases short term use of formula milk is not harmful for the infant. In some hospitals donated human milk might be used. 


Further information relating to formula milk is available here:

•The complexity of human milk and it’s benefits for human infants are an outcome of many hundreds of thousands of years of evolution.(See image of Macaque monkey breastfeeding.)
•The composition of human milk changes dynamically as lactation proceeds to meet the needs of the developing infant.
•Breastmilk is comprised of many antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory, and immunomodulating agents that are often multifunctional, act synergistically, change as lactation proceeds, and compensate for delays in the development of the immune system of the infant.4

Why is breastmilk so important for an infant?

Reduction in mortality and morbidity

Table 1: Key diseases breastfed infants have greater protection against.

•Human milk is full of growth factors for commensal enteric bacteria and activated leukocytes.

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