The Risks and Benefits of Infant Feeding Practices for Women and Their Children

AM Stuebe; EB Schwarz


J Perinatol. 2010;30(3):155-162. 

In This Article

Abstract and Introduction


Infant feeding decisions affect maternal and child health outcomes, worldwide. Even in settings with clean water and good sanitation, infants who are not breast-fed face an increased risk of infectious, as well as non-infectious morbidity and mortality. The decision not to breast-feed can also adversely affect mothers' health by increasing the risk of pre-menopausal breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type II diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease. Clinicians who counsel mothers about the health impact of infant feeding and provide evidence-based care to maximize successful breast-feeding, can improve the short and long-term health of both mothers and infants.


Health outcomes differ substantially for mothers and infants who formula-feed, compared with those who breast-feed, even in wealthy countries such as the United States. Unfortunately, rates of breast-feeding in the United States continue to fall short of the World Health Organization's recommendations that children are breast-fed for their first 2 years of life.[1] The American Academy of Pediatrics[2] and the American Academy of Family Physicians[3] recommend exclusive breast-feeding for the first 6 months of life, continuing at least through the infant's first birthday, and as long thereafter as is mutually desired. In the United States, in 2005, only 74% of the United States infants were breast-fed at least once after delivery, only 32% were exclusively breast-fed at 3 months of age, and just 12% were exclusively breast-fed at 6 months of age.[4] These rates vary considerably by region, with the highest rates in the Pacific Northwest and the lowest rates in the Southeast. Although some of this variation reflects cultural differences, recent data suggest that variations in hospital practices account for a considerable proportion of disparities in breast-feeding.[5] This suggests that improvements in the quality of antenatal and perinatal support for breast-feeding could have a substantial impact on public health. For this reason, it is important for clinicians to have a clear understanding of the risks and benefits of infant feeding practices for women's and children's health.


Comments on Medscape are moderated and should be professional in tone and on topic. You must declare any conflicts of interest related to your comments and responses. Please see our Commenting Guide for further information. We reserve the right to remove posts at our sole discretion.