World breastfeeding week is a great time in the year to educate about Breastfeeding. Through my years of working with Public Health, I see more moms-to-be say that they would like to breastfeed or have thought about breastfeeding but do not know the benefits of breastfeeding besides it is good for the baby. YES, that is a HUGE benefit but I would like to take those statements further and discuss what those benefits exactly are!
Let’s start with the benefits for the baby. Human milk contains live cells, like those in blood and is species specific! What does that mean?? The milk of each mammal is designed specifically for the proper growth for that species. Some mammal’s milk is high in fat or high in protein for rapid growth and maturation while humans are actually the slowest growing mammals but have the most advanced brains. The human milk contains appropriate levels of vitamins and minerals to support a full term healthy infant. If your infant is born premature, mothers produce milk that is slightly different in composition for several weeks. The premature breast milk is higher in proteins and minerals and contains a different more easily digestible fat for absorption. For this reason, human milk is a lot more easily absorbable for the premature infant due to the sensitive intestinal lining that can be compromised when exposed to cow’s milk proteins which are found in premature formulas. Now let’s talk about Antibodies. Breastmilk, unlike formula, contains antibodies. Antibodies are made by your body’s immune system to specifically help fight each illness. Through your breast milk, you give your baby immunities to help protect them from getting sick. It is false information to stop breastfeeding from illnesses like the flu or a cold because your body will pass the immunities to the baby and either prevent baby from getting the sickness or help baby with a more mild case of the illness. On the opposite spectrum, your baby also can pass germs to you and your body responds by synthesizing the germs and building antibodies so by the next feeding session those antibodies your body produced are now being passed to the baby. These are just some benefits breastfeeding does for an infant. Other benefits of breastfeeding include decreased risks of allergies, colds, viruses, staph, diabetes, cancer, meningitis, ear infections, upper and lower respiratory infections, SIDS, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, breast and ovarian cancer, and some lymphomas along with others!
Let’s now move on to the benefits for mom, which are often overlooked. When a baby is born and the mother puts the baby to breast, the suckling of the baby promotes a release of oxytocin from the mother which signals what we hear as a “let-down” and also signals the mother’s body to produce contractions in the uterus. This benefit reduces the risk of postpartum hemorrhage and the return to a non-pregnant state. Another benefit for a breastfeeding mom is the calorie burning. Did you know a breastfeeding mom can burn on average around 500 calories a day!? This is also a benefit to those moms who had gestational diabetes by decreasing their risk of developing diabetes later and those with Type 1 diabetes usually can take less insulin when breastfeeding than if they were formula feeding. When a mother breastfeeds her baby she also releases a hormone called Prolactin which appears to cause calmness in mothers which decreases their risk of postpartum depression. Some other benefits for mom include a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer, keeping bones strong, and in some cases can provide ways of contraception which can be discussed with your OBGYN.
For more information about breastfeeding the TN Breastfeeding hotline is free and can be contacted 24hrs. /day at 855-4BFMOMS.
Meet the Author: My name is Haley Richardson. I am a Registered Dietitian and work daily with pregnant mothers, infants, and children. I have a passion for community nutrition education and bringing the most up to date research based information to families. More importantly I am a wife and mother to two beautiful children.