Human milk contains a host of protective substances. The nutritional composition also supports the health of the infant by providing the ideal balance of nutrients for the infant, at the same time denying any dangerous organisms the chance to multiply. This is done by providing the minimum amount of iron, for example and binding it in such a way that the baby can utilize it (lactoferrin), but not any harmful bacteria that are present in the gut. There are other bacteria that humans find it useful to colonize the gut but they do not use iron. There are a number of sugars produced in human milk which remain undigested and appear to be present to inhibit the growth of dangerous organisms. There are the antibodies to all the diseases with which the mother has come into contact and to diseases that only the baby has met.

Here are some of the conditions that we know breastfeeding helps to prevent:




Gastrointestinal infections

Respiratory infections

Urinary tract infections

Ear infections

Sudden infant death


Dental malocclusion

Childhood lymphoma

Bowel disease

Heart disease

Auto immune thyroid disease

Crohn’s disease

Coeliac disease

Neonatal tetany

Multiple sclerosis


Neonatal Necrotising Enterocolitis (in preterm infants)


Breastfeeding enhances immunity and increases intelligence in preterm and full term babies.


If a formula fed baby has gastroenteritis it is not necessarily because the mother has been careless in preparing the baby’s feeds. It can be because cow’s milk formula is not suited to human infants. The chance for error is always there though, from contaminated formula as well as non-sterile preparation. Protective mechanisms do exist in cow’s milk too; they are either destroyed in the manufacturing process or unsuitable for human infants. The milk is, after all, designed for calves. This design includes encouraging the growth of bacteria to assist in the breakdown of grass, the cow’s staple diet, and which are dangerous to human infants. So the very nature of the milk is designed to produce the conditions that are dangerous to babies. The opposite conditions from those provided by human milk (read “Breastfeeding Matters” and “The Politics of Breastfeeding”).

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