To breastfeed or not to breastfeed? New mothers often struggle with this decision. Experts agree that breastfeeding offers significant benefits to your little one. You may not know, however, that mothers reap some benefits from breastfeeding, too.
Benefits for your baby
Breastfeeding provides a skin-to-skin contact that helps your baby bond with you and feels secure. In addition, your breast milk provides your baby with many health benefits. For full effects of these health benefits, babies should be breastfed exclusively for six months (no solids or liquids other than breast milk), but experts agree that even a short period of breastfeeding is better than none at all.
Breast milk is complete nutrition. It’s the perfect mix of vitamins, fat, and protein, and it changes over time to adjust to your baby’s nutritional needs as he grows.
The antibodies in breast milk help your baby fight off bacteria and viruses. Your body naturally produces these antibodies in response to germs in your environment, so your breast milk is tailored to fight the health threats that your baby may encounter. Research also suggests that breastfed babies have a stronger immune response to vaccines, making the vaccines more effective.
Allergy and asthma protection
Although studies have not been able to identify a reason, there’s strong evidence to suggest that children who are breastfed are less likely to struggle with allergies and asthma. One theory is that secretory IgA, found in breast milk but not in formula, provides a layer of protection in your baby’s intestines that help prevent allergic reactions.
Obesity risk reduction
Breastfed babies are less likely to struggle with obesity later in life. This may be because breastmilk contains less insulin than formula does, and insulin stimulates the creation of fat. Babies who are breastfed also have more leptin in their bodies, which may help regulate appetite.
Other risk reduction
Breastfeeding is also linked to reduced risk of Celiac Disease, Diabetes, and Crohn’s Disease later in life. In addition, breastfed babies are less likely to die of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) than their non-breastfed counterparts. Babies who are breastfed experience significantly fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, and bouts of diarrhea in their first year of life than babies who are formula-fed.
Benefits for you
The top breastfeeding benefit for new mothers is that it’s easy. You’ll likely feel overwhelmed in your first few months of motherhood, and every task you can eliminate is a bonus. Forget about sterilizing bottles and mixing formula – just lift up your shirt! But the benefits don’t stop there.
Post-pregnancy weight loss
Did you know that breastfeeding burns lots of calories? You can burn around 400 calories per day just by feeding your baby. That amounts to losing your pregnancy weight much more quickly.
Breastfeeding causes your body to release the hormone oxytocin, which is responsible for helping your body heal after pregnancy and delivery. Oxytocin helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size, and may also help prevent post-partum depression.
Cancer risk reduction
Women who have breastfed their children have lower rates of certain types of cancers, including ovarian cancer and breast cancer.
Osteoporosis risk reduction
When you’re breastfeeding, your bones are better at absorbing calcium. The reason is not entirely understood, but women emerge from the breastfeeding period of their babies’ lives with stronger, denser bones.
Women who don’t breastfeed see the return of their periods relatively quickly. Women who do breastfeed often experience a delay of several months before their period return.
Last, but not least, you’ll save money. The formula is expensive and can cost several hundred dollars per month, depending on the type of formula that your baby needs.
While there are many benefits to breastfeeding, both for you and for your baby, many mothers can’t breastfeed or choose not to. If this is you, make sure you discuss your baby’s nutritional needs with your doctor and choose the best solution. It’s possible to buy breast milk, which many experts recommend if you’re not going to be breastfeeding your baby yourself. Alternately, find out which formula your doctor recommends for your baby. You’ll need to make sure you have appropriate bottles, nipples, and sterilizing equipment though.