Benefits of Breastfeeding

“Young Mother Nursing Her Child”
Oil Painting by Mary Cassatt

Out of all the things I promote, breastfeeding is the main one that causes people to get defensive. I don’t intentionally do this, but it seems to happen regularly.  That may be one of the reasons I have procrastinated on writing this.

So, just to make things clear I want to say: Just because a person is promoting breastfeeding, it does not mean they are bashing those who do not breastfeed, regardless the reason.  It does not mean I am saying that moms who use formula are “bad moms.” It seems that many moms, and dads for that matter, go into attack mode whenever I post a pro-breastfeeding article.  It happens every time. I’m just being honest here.  If you are unable to breastfeed, you are not a bad mom.  If you can’t breastfeed your baby, there is no reason to feel guilty about it.  Feeding your baby with formula is fine and it will provide your baby with all the nutrients he or she needs.  We moms have enough to worry about and I am not here to judge anyone for their choice.

With that being said, I am going to share the benefits of breastfeeding because I feel that nursing moms deserve to know all the amazing benefits that breastfeeding can provide.  There is almost nothing you can do for your child that will affect him/her both emotionally and physically as much as breastfeeding can.  The longer you breastfeed, the more beneficial it is for both you and your baby. But any amount of breastmilk is better than none. All references are posted at the end of this article.

Breast milk is nature’s perfect baby food. Breastfeeding is natural and the biological norm.  Human milk provides the specific nutrients that babies need to grow, both in size and maturity. Your milk is made to order for your baby and it changes based on the baby’s needs. Breastmilk is loaded with immunity-boosting antibodies and healthy enzymes that scientists have yet to replicate.  These antibodies help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. When babies are born, their immune systems are very immature and they have less ability to fight illness-causing germs.

Breastfeeding has been shown to be protective against many illnesses and conditions, such as autism, eczema, ear infections, upper and lower respiratory issues, colds, viruses, staph, strep and e coli infections, allergies, intestinal disorders, diabetes, and some childhood cancers. 

Breast milk causes less stomach upset, diarrhea, and constipation than formula because breast milk is easy for your baby’s body to break down. Does this mean breastfed babies never get sick? No, they can and they do. However, the illness is generally less severe and less lengthy than if the baby were not receiving his mother’s milk. Babies who are breastfed are also less likely to be overweight and develop diabetes later in life.

Breastfeeding while baby starts solids gives your baby a smooth transition. You can use your breast milk to mix into baby cereal so your baby can continue to get the nutrients that breastmilk provides. You can breastfeed first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening for a calming ritual to help baby sleep.

Breastfeeding creates a bond with your baby. Many moms say this is the biggest benefit of breastfeeding. Nursing is something special that you and your baby share. It’s empowering as a new mother to see your baby grow and thrive on your breast milk alone. For as long as you can nurse, you and your baby will feel the bonding of breastfeeding. Skin-to-skin contact and cuddly closeness increases the levels of oxytocin in both mom and baby, which in turn increases positive hormonal interactions. (Dad can get bonding time with a bottle of pumped milk if you decide to use a pump.) Breastfeeding promotes a growing attachment between you and your baby that will continue to play an important role in your baby’s development for years to come. Breastfed babies are typically calmer and cry less, which just makes everyone happier.

Breastfeeding may make your baby smarter. This is no guarantee, however, there have been several studies that have shown babies who are breastfed score higher on IQ tests later in life.  This is because the fatty acids in breast milk are thought to be the brain boosters. Breastfeeding may affect your baby’s brain development and reduce the risk of future behavior and learning problems.

Breastfeeding saves you money. Breastfeeding is mostly free, if you aren’t considering your time spent doing it. Some of the additional costs include a pump, breastmilk bottles, a nursing pillow, and nursing bras.  Even then, you’ll still only spend about half the cost of a year’s supply of formula.  Formula is very expensive and it also takes time to mix and heat up. By breastfeeding, you don’t have to worry about buying or mixing formula, warming up bottles in the middle of the night, or calculating your baby’s daily needs. So when you factor in everything, breastfeeding saves you a lot of money.

Breastfeeding is good for the environment.  Breastfeeding is better for the planet than formula. Human milk is delivered without excess packaging or processing, which contributes to the health of our planet.  With breastfeeding, there is no waste going into landfills, no water needed for mixing, no transportation of product needed, and no pollution from agricultural waste seeping into our waterways and ground water. Breast milk is always at the right temperature and ready to drink, so no need for heating it up (unless it’s been in the fridge). As a breastfeeding mother, you can feed your baby even during stressful times, such as when normal supplies of food and water are not available.

Breastfeeding is good for Moms. There are several health benefits for nursing mothers.  Breastfeeding heals your body faster after delivery. Oxytocin increases during breastfeeding, which causes contractions in the uterus that will help your uterus return to its normal size more quickly.  This also reduces post-delivery blood loss. Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of depression from the amounts of oxytocin in their system, which encourages caregiving, relaxation, and bonding between mother and child.

Breastfeeding helps you lose pregnancy weight fast because milk production burns about 300 to 500 calories a day. Moms who breastfeed for more than 12 months are at lower risk for breast, uterine, cervical and ovarian cancers.  Breastfeeding may also lower your risk of high blood pressure, arthritis, high blood fats, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis later in life. Breastfeeding also pauses ovulation and delays menstruation. The suspension of menstrual cycles may actually be nature’s way of ensuring there is some time in between pregnancies. So not worrying about “that time of the month” is a nice little benefit for nursing mothers. 

So the bottom is this this: if you can breastfeed your baby, then do it!  It is one of the best things you can do for yourself and your baby. If you are a mom who has to go back to work full time you can still breastfed, but it will require a bit more planning. Working moms can bring an electric pump with them to work and give that milk to their baby at a later time. I recommend a double pump because it’s faster than a single pump. Places of employment should provide nursing mothers with a safe place where she can do this.  Breastfeeding takes work!  Even though it is natural, it isn’t always easy.  We must provide more support and encouragement for nursing mothers. Having a good support system is very important to ensure success.  Lactation consultants are fabulous for helping you with success.  And don’t give up if nursing doesn’t happen automatically.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help!!!

I struggled in the beginning, but I didn’t give up. You can read all about my breastfeeding experience here.


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