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10 potential benefits of breast-feeding

This story was originally published on August 21, 2014. It was updated on August 3, 2015, with new information.

Many people across the world are currently celebrating World Breastfeeding Week, which is part of a campaign launched by the World Alliance for Breastfeeding Action to support working women who want to breastfeed in the workplace.

So far, the campaign has encouraged public celebrations and some countries to change their workplace breastfeeding policies. For example, the Australian Breastfeeding Association launched a Friendly Workplace Program, which encourages employers to create a friendly work environment for moms who want to breastfeed in the workplace, according to ABC Australia.

"If [working] women want to continue breastfeeding, then they need a clean and private place to express or in some cases feed their child," the ABA's chief executive Rebecca Naylor told ABC. "They need policies that support that so that they can have lactation breaks. They need a culture at work that says 'we want to support you.'"

Back in the United States, where about three quarters of mothers breastfeed, breastfeeding is widely debated.

Some studies have said the benefits of breastfeeding are “overstated,” especially because some kids don't ever see any of the long-term benefits. Critics have noted that breastfeeding is not necessarily as good as some may think. Others have knocked breastfeeding for its public ties.

Deseret News National wrote about one woman who was asked to leave a store in New York for breastfeeding in public, and actress Olivia Wilde’s Glamour cover photo of her breastfeeding a child is another example, according to The Los Angeles Times.

But, despite these debates and concerns expressed by the media, breastfeeding has been linked to benefits, too. NPR reported a year ago that women are breastfeeding, but there are still plenty of children who are missing out on the benefits despite experts saying it can be helpful for young ones.

Here are 10 of those benefits:

It cuts depression risk for moms

Breastfeeding was linked to cutting the risk of depression for mothers by a study published in the journal Maternal and Child Health. The study, which looked at 14,000 new mothers, found that women who breastfeed are less likely to develop the mental-health issue. One in 10 women specifically develop depression, the study found, but that number dropped if a woman was able to breastfeed.

It betters your baby’s immune system

Worried that your baby might be sick all the time? Breastfeeding has been linked to improving a baby’s immune system, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics. Mothers pass their antibodies through milk to the children, allowing the baby to build a strong defense system against colds and infections, the APP reported.

It builds a relationship between mother and child

The AAP also found that breastfeeding can help strengthen the bond between a child and his or her mother. Closeness is the catalyst in building a strong relationship between parent and child, since the child will feel more protected and adapted to the new world around him or her.

It can make your kid smarter

BabyCenter.com, a website run by parenting and baby health experts, found that breastfeeding can boost your child’s intelligence later on down the road. It’s been debated by Baby Center's experts whether it’s the fatty acids that cause this (Reuters says no), or the emotional bond formed between parent and child during the process.

It eliminates obesity risks … sort of

In 2013, Time magazine reported that studies have linked breastfeeding to a decline in obesity risks for children. But this isn’t true in all areas, since a study also found that some born in Belarus did not show significant weight differences to those who drank formula, Time reported.

Experts told Time, though, that breast milk allows babies to make better decisions about food in the future, which can help with obesity risks.

“Breast milk provides your baby with food that is easy to digest and very nutritious, and your child helps decide how much to eat and when to eat it,” researchers told Time. “Both the breast milk itself and the way your baby feeds help him or her to develop healthy eating patterns. Breastfed babies seem to be better able to regulate their food intake and thus are at lower risk for obesity.”

Kids behave better

A study from the department of sociology at Ohio State University found that kids who are breastfed are more well-behaved than those who drink formula. The study said this has to do with the kids establishing an emotional bond with both parents. Without that bond, the results would be reversed, the study said.

It improves brain development for babies

Getting those nutrients from the mother through breastfeeding helps a baby’s brain develop, according to a study from Brown University. In fact, even when babies are fed both formula and breast milk, the results are still better than just formula, the study found. The research for this study was primarily done by looking at MRI scans of the kids’ brains to see how different they were.

“MRI images, taken while children were asleep, showed that infants who were exclusively breastfed for at least three months had enhanced development in key parts of the brain compared to children who were fed formula or a combination of formula and breast milk,” the study said.

It can help mothers lose weight

Putting on pounds during pregnancy is no surprise for mothers. But breastfeeding is one way mothers have been trying to tip the scales back in their favor.

“Breastfeeding burns extra calories, so it can help you lose pregnancy weight faster,” according to WebMD.

It cuts cancer risks for mothers

Babies aren’t the only ones benefiting from the act of breastfeeding. The National Resources Defense Council and the American Cancer Society both said that breastfeeding has the potential to cut back on cancer risks — mostly breast cancer, but also ovarian cancer — for mothers.

Mothers can save money

The AAP noted something about breastfeeding that might not be obvious — it’s a cheaper option. Formula can cost between $4 and $10, the AAP noted, which is not as financially appealing as the free cost of milk directly from breastfeeding.