The evidence is conclusive: breast milk is the best nutrition you can offer your newborn. Breastfeeding offers tremendous health benefits to both mother and child. It is specially designed to cater for all your child’s nutritional needs in the first six months of life. For maximum benefits, breastfeeding should be initiated soon after the birth of your child and should be maintained exclusively for six months, until weaning is initiated
It is optimal for both babies and mothers. For babies, it can protect against infections and reduce the rates of later health problems including diabetes, obesity, and asthma. For mothers breastfeeding helps the uterus to contract and bleeding to cease more quickly after delivery. Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer and also provides a great way for mothers to bond with their babies.
Studies indicate that breastfeeding helps improve mothers’ health, as well as their children’s. A woman grows both physically and emotionally from the relationship she forms with her baby. Just as a woman’s breast milk is designed specifically to nourish the body of an infant, the production and delivery of this milk aids her own health.
- Breast milk is always fresh, perfectly clean, just the right temperature, and is the healthy choice at the least cost.
- Breastfeeding is easy, even if it sometimes requires an initial period of learning and adapting for mother and baby.
- Breastfeeding requires no preparation, sterilization, etc. of bottles and formula (often while baby cries…)
- Breastfeeding is a cost effective way of feeding an infant, providing the best nourishment for a child at a small nutrient cost to the mother.
- Breastfeeding is possible throughout pregnancy, but generally milk production will be reduced at some point.
- Frequent and exclusive breastfeeding can delay the return of fertility through lactational amenorrhea, though breastfeeding is an imperfect means of birth control.
- Breast Milk Provides Ideal Nutrition for Babies
Most health authorities recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months.
Continued breastfeeding is then recommended for at least one year, as different foods are introduced into the baby’s diet
Breast milk contains everything the baby needs for the first six months of life, in all the right proportions. Its composition even changes according to the baby’s changing needs, especially during the first month of life
During the first days after birth, the breasts produce a thick and yellowish fluid called colostrum. It’s high in protein, low in sugar and loaded with beneficial compounds
Colostrum is the ideal first milk and helps the newborn’s immature digestive tract develop. After the first few days, the breasts start producing larger amounts of milk as the baby’s stomach grows.
About the only thing that may be lacking from breast milk is vitamin D. Unless the mother has a very high intake, her breast milk will not provide enough
To compensate for this deficiency, vitamin D drops are usually recommended from the age of 2–4 weeks
- Breast Milk Contains Important Antibodies
Breast milk is loaded with antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria.
This particularly applies to colostrum, the first milk.
Colostrum provides high amounts of immunoglobulin A (IgA), as well as several other antibodies
When the mother is exposed to viruses or bacteria, she starts producing antibodies.
These antibodies are then secreted into the breast milk and passed to the baby during feeding
IgA protects the baby from getting sick by forming a protective layer in the baby’s nose, throat and digestive system
For this reason, breastfeeding mothers with the flu may actually provide their babies with antibodies that help them fight the pathogen that is causing the sickness.
Nonetheless, if you are ill, you should always practice strict hygiene. Wash your hands often and try to avoid infecting your baby.
Formula doesn’t provide antibody protection for babies. Numerous studies show that babies who are not breastfed are more vulnerable to health issues like pneumonia, diarrhea and infection
- Breastfeeding May Reduce Disease Risk
Breastfeeding has an impressive list of health benefits. This is particularly true of exclusive breastfeeding, meaning that the infant receives only breast milk.
It may reduce your baby’s risk of many illnesses and diseases, including:
- Middle ear infections: 3 or more months of exclusive breastfeeding may reduce the risk by 50%, while any breastfeeding may reduce it by 23%
- Respiratory tract infections: Exclusive breastfeeding for more than 4 months reduces the risk of hospitalization for these infections by up to 72%
- Colds and infections: Babies exclusively breastfed for 6 months may have up to a 63% lower risk of getting serious colds and ear or throat infections
- Gut infections: Breastfeeding is linked with a 64% reduction in gut infections, seen for up to 2 months after breastfeeding stops
- Intestinal tissue damage: Feeding preterm babies breast milk is linked with around a 60% reduction in the incidence of necrotizing enterocolitis
- Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS): Breastfeeding is linked to a 50% reduced risk after 1 month, and a 36% reduced risk in the first year
- Allergic diseases: Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 3–4 months is linked with a 27–42% reduced risk of asthma, atopic dermatitis and eczema
- Celiac disease: Babies who are breastfed at the time of first gluten exposure have a 52% lower risk of developing celiac disease
- Inflammatory bowel disease: Babies who are breastfed may be roughly 30% less likely to develop childhood inflammatory bowel disease
- Diabetes: Breastfeeding for at least 3 months is linked to a reduced risk of type 1 diabetes (up to 30%) and type 2 diabetes (up to 40%)
- Childhood leukemia: Breastfeeding for 6 months or longer is linked with a 15–20% reduction in the risk of childhood leukemia .In addition to reducing the risk of many infections, breastfeeding has also been shown to significantly reduce their severity
Furthermore, the protective effects of breastfeeding seem to last throughout childhood and even adulthood.
- Breast Milk Promotes a Healthy Weight
Breastfeeding promotes healthy weight gain and helps prevent childhood obesity.
Studies show that obesity rates are 15–30% lower in breastfed babies, compared to formula-fed babies
The duration is also important, as each month of breastfeeding reduces your child’s risk of future obesity by 4%
This may be due to the development of different gut bacteria. Breastfed babies have higher amounts of beneficial gut bacteria, which may affect fat storage
Babies fed on breast milk also have more leptin in their systems than formula-fed babies. Leptin is a key hormone for regulating appetite and fat storage
Breastfed babies also self-regulate their milk intake. They’re better at eating only until they’ve satisfied their hunger, which helps them develop healthy eating patterns
- Breastfeeding May Make Children Smarter
Some studies suggest there may be a difference in brain development between breastfed and formula-fed babies
This difference may be due to the physical intimacy, touch and eye contact associated with breastfeeding.
Studies indicate that breastfed babies have higher intelligence scores and are less likely to develop problems with behavior and learning as they grow older
However, the most pronounced effects are seen in preterm babies, who have a higher risk of developmental issues.
The research clearly shows that breastfeeding has significant positive effects on their long-term brain development
- Breastfeeding May Help You Lose Weight
While some women seem to gain weight during breastfeeding, others seem to effortlessly lose weight.
Although breastfeeding increases a mother’s energy demands by about 500 calories per day, the body’s hormonal balance is very different from normal
Because of these hormonal changes, lactating women have an increased appetite and may be more prone to storing fat for milk production (For the first 3 months after delivery, breastfeeding mothers may lose less weight than women who don’t breastfeed, and they may even gain weight
However, after 3 months of lactation, they will likely experience an increase in fat burning .Beginning around 3–6 months after delivery, mothers who breastfeed have been shown to lose more weight than mothers who don’t breastfeed (The important thing to remember is that diet and exercise are still the most important factors determining how much weight you will lose, whether lactating or not
- Breastfeeding Helps the Uterus Contract
During pregnancy, your uterus grows immensely, expanding from the size of a pear to filling almost the entire space of your abdomen.
After delivery, your uterus goes through a process called involution, which helps it return to its previous size. Oxytocin, a hormone that increases throughout pregnancy, helps drive this process.
Your body secretes high amounts of oxytocin during labor to help deliver the baby and reduce bleeding
Oxytocin also increases during breastfeeding. It encourages uterine contractions and reduces bleeding, helping the uterus return to its previous size.
Studies have also shown that mothers who breastfeed generally have less blood loss after delivery and faster involution of the uterus
- Mothers Who Breastfeed Have a Lower Risk of Depression
Postpartum depression is a type of depression that can develop shortly after childbirth. It affects up to 15% of mothers
Women who breastfeed seem less likely to develop postpartum depression, compared to mothers who wean early or do not breastfeed
However, those who experience postpartum depression early after delivery are also more likely to have trouble breastfeeding and do so for a shorter duration
Although the evidence is a bit mixed, it’s known that breastfeeding causes hormonal changes that encourage maternal caregiving and bonding
One of the most pronounced changes is the increased amount of oxytocin produced during birth and breastfeeding Oxytocin appears to have long-term anti-anxiety effects. It also encourages bonding by affecting specific brain regions that promote nurturing and relaxation these effects may also partly explain why breastfeeding mothers have a lower rate of maternal neglect, compared to those who do not breastfeed.
One study found that the rate of maternal child abuse and neglect was almost three times higher for mothers who did not breastfeed, compared to those who did
On that note, keep in mind that these are only statistical associations. Not breastfeeding does not mean that you will neglect your baby in any way.
- Breastfeeding Reduces Your Disease Risk
Breastfeeding seems to provide the mother with long-term protection against cancer and several diseases.
The total time a woman spends breastfeeding is linked with a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer
In fact, women who breastfeed for more than 12 months during their lifetime have a 28% lower risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. Each year of breastfeeding is associated with a 4.3% decrease in breast cancer risk
Recent studies also indicate that breastfeeding may protect against metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and other health problems
Women who breastfeed for 1–2 years over their lifetime have a 10–50% lower risk of high blood pressure, arthritis, high blood fats, heart disease and type 2 diabetes
- Breastfeeding May Prevent Menstruation
Continued breastfeeding also pauses ovulation and menstruation.
The suspension of menstrual cycles may actually be nature’s way of ensuring there is some time between pregnancies.
Some women have even used this phenomenon as birth control for the first few months after delivery However, note that this may not be a completely effective method of birth control.
You may consider this change as an extra benefit. While you’re enjoying precious time with your newborn, you won’t have to worry about “that time of the month.”
- It Also Saves Time and Money
To top the list, breastfeeding is completely free and requires very little effort.
By choosing to breastfeed, you won’t have to:
- Spend money on formula.
- Calculate how much your baby needs to drink daily.
- Spend time cleaning and sterilizing bottles.
- Mix and warm up bottles in the middle of the night (or day).
- Figure out ways to warm up bottles while on the go.
Breast milk is always at the right temperature and ready to drink.