As a popular saying goes, “Breastfeeding is good for the baby.” But the right one should have been, “Breastfeeding is good for both the mommy and the baby,” what with the many mutual benefits it brings.
Main benefits of breastfeeding
Ensures a healthy baby, well-protected from viruses and bacteria
Breastfed babies are less prone to pneumonia, colds, and viruses because breast milk contains a good amount of antibodies, especially the first milk or colostrum, which provides several antibodies and high amounts of immunoglobulin A (IgA).
Mothers exposed to bacteria or viruses also start producing antibodies that are then passed on to the baby during feeding. New moms with the flu will provide babies with pathogen-fighting antibodies, so antibodies from the mother and breast milk combine to make a healthier baby.
Reduces the risk of disease and provides long-term protection for the baby
Apart from providing antibodies, breastfeeding also reduces the risk of babies developing chronic conditions. This is especially true for babies that receive breast milk exclusively.
Two or more months of breastfeeding reduces middle ear infections by 50%, respiratory tract infections by up to 72%, sudden infant death syndrome by 50%, intestinal tissue damage by around 60%, allergic disease by up to 42%, the risk of Type 1 Diabetes by up to 30% and type 2 diabetes by up to 42%, and gut infection by 64% up to two months after breastfeeding has stopped.
There’s also a 20% reduction in the risk of childhood leukemia for babies breastfed for six months or longer.
Breast milk provides babies with the ideal nutrients they need
Breastfed babies are not only healthier because of the antibodies from the milk, but also because of all the nutrients. Colostrum, in particular, is high in protein, packed with beneficial compounds and low in sugar. It’s abundant during the first days after birth. Now you why health authorities strongly recommend that a mother sticks to exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months.
With the exception of Vitamin D, breast milk has all the vitamins and minerals your baby needs for their growth and development. They’re delivered in the right portions, too. And when the baby’s needs change, the composition of breast milk also changes.
Breast milk prevents obesity, promotes healthy weight
Breastfeeding has been known to prevent child obesity and promote healthy weight gain. In fact, breastfed babies have an obesity rate that is 15% to 30% lower than formula-fed babies. Why is this the case, you ask?
- Breastfeeding helps in the development of different gut bacteria that can affect fat storage.
- Breast milk provides more leptin, a key hormone that regulates fat storage and appetite.
- Breastfeeding helps develop healthy eating patterns because breastfed babies self-regulate their milk intake.
Breastfeeding is known to make children smarter
Breastfed babies are said to show better brain development than formula-fed babies. Studies suggest that this may have something to do with the physical intimacy, eye contact and touch that happens between mother and child during breastfeeding.
It also showed higher intelligence scores for breastfed babies and a lower risk of developing behavior and learning problems as they grow older.
Ensures stronger bones for mommy
According to infant-nutrition expert and the author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession (Elsevier-Mosby) Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., “When a woman is pregnant and lactating, her body absorbs calcium much more efficiently,” which is why the risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis is lower.
Promotes better healing post-delivery for mommy
When a mother nurses her baby, oxytocin is released, which helps the uterus contract, reducing blood loss post-delivery. Continued breastfeeding will also help the uterus return to its normal size faster because it encourages uterine contractions, causing it to shrink at about six weeks. Mothers who don’t breastfeed would have to wait up to 10 weeks for their uterus to contract.
Breastfeeding helps mommy burn calories and lose weight
Babies are not the only one who get to enjoy a healthy weight during breastfeeding. Nursing moms also burn up to 500 calories a day, helping her lose weight almost effortlessly. Breast milk contains 20 calories per ounce, so imagine how many calories a mother loses when she breastfeeds up to 20 ounces a day.
It is important to note, however, that lactating women may experience hormonal changes that will increase appetite and fat storage for milk production. This is why breastfeeding mothers either lose or gain weight the first three months after delivery, experience increase in fat burning after three months of lactation, and then lose more weight around three to six months after delivery. This is why experts recommend proper diet and exercise, whether lactating or not.
Breast milk is cheap and saves time
Breast milk is free; formula is not. For as long as a mother is lactating and breastfeeding exclusively, she wouldn’t need to spend money on milk for her baby. Moreover, a nursing mom wouldn’t have to buy bottles, and spend time cleaning and sterilizing them before mixing milk every time a baby needs to feed.
Not to mention the need to keep bottled milk at the right temperature and find ways to warm bottles while on the go. When breastfeeding, on the other hand, a mother only needs a private place to do it.
Lowers risk of depression and disease in mommies
About 15% of mothers can have postpartum depression shortly after childbirth, but those who breastfeed seem less likely to experience the problem compared to those who do not breastfeed or wean early. This has something to do with the oxytocin produced during birth and breastfeeding that seems to have long-term anti-anxiety effects.
The same hormones affect specific brain regions that promote relaxation and nurturing, encouraging bonding in the process. This partly explains why breastfeeding mothers are less likely to neglect their maternal responsibilities than those who do not breastfeed.
In addition, breastfeeding provides mothers with long-term protection against several diseases, including cancer. Women who breastfeed for more than 12 months in their lifetime have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer by 28%.
For each year they breastfeed, there’s also a 4.3% decrease in the risk of breast cancer. Women who breastfeed for a year or two over their lifetime also have a lower risk of heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, arthritis, and high blood fats.