The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Benefits to Baby

Mother’s milk provides complete and valuable nutrients for baby’s ideal growth and development. It’s rich in antibodies for protection against diseases, proteins for growth, and carbohydrates, fats, and minerals for brain and nervous system development.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breast milk helps protect your baby from:

  • Allergies
  • Bacterial Meningitis
  • Crohn's Disease
  • Diaper Rash
  • Ear Infections
  • Eczema
  • Juvenile Diabetes
  • Respiratory Infections
  • Urinary Tract Infections
  • SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome)

Some studies even indicate mother's milk enhances cognitive development (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1997) and reduces the  risk of childhood obesity (von Kries, 1999).

Since its inception, the American Academy of Pediatrics has been a firm and loyal advocate of breastfeeding as the optimal form of nutrition for infants, with artificial milk (formula) a very distant second alternative. The American Lung Association states that babies who are breastfed for at least four months are less likely than formula-fed babies to develop asthma, the leading cause of childhood hospital stays in the United States and Australia (Kaufman, 1999).

Benefits to Mother

Mothers who breastfeed lose weight more quickly after giving birth and their postpartum bleeding is usually lessened when compared to mothers who do not breastfeed. Oxytocin, a hormone released during breastfeeding, helps shrink the uterus and return it to pre-pregnancy size. The hormones released with breastfeeding act as a type of contraceptive to delay ovulation and fertility (American Academy of Pediatrics, 1997). In addition, breastfeeding activates a calming effect through the release of the hormone prolactin, which increases mother-baby bonding while initiating and maintaining milk production.

Some studies even indicate that breastfeeding may reduce the incidence of breast, uterine and ovarian cancers (Radetsky, 1999) and in the long term may reduce a woman's risk of osteoporosis by increasing bone strength.

Benefits to Society

Because breastfed babies are generally healthier than formula-fed babies, they require fewer expensive medications, doctor visits, medical tests, and hospital stays. Costs to the federal and state governments could be reduced by billions of taxpayer dollars if we had more breastfed babies—and this estimate does not factor in “lost work time” by parents who stay home to care for a sick child (Riordan, 1997).

From an environmental standpoint, breastfeeding requires fewer natural resources in the form of glass, aluminum, paper, and plastic for packaging plus the products required to prepare and provide baby formula.

A Special Bonding Time

This is a very special time for you and your baby. You’re forming emotional bonds that will last a lifetime and offering your baby the healthiest combination of nutrients possible—an ideal way to start life.

Although you’ll be very focused on your newborn, it’s also important that you consider your own needs. In the long run, that will benefit both you and your baby. For instance, try to rest when your baby rests rather than catching up on housework or laundry. The extra rest will help elevate your attitude, complete your postpartum recovery, and help establish your milk supply. Limit visits from neighbors and friends and simplify the activities of daily living as much as you can to reduce the stress level.

Although you’re thinking of your child’s nutrition, don’t neglect your own. Eat a well-balanced diet and drink plenty of fluids. If possible, try to take a walk or occasionally schedule some stretching or aerobic exercises—with your doctor’s approval. It’s amazing how much better you’ll feel with a little time to yourself. If you experience mood swings, which is normal after giving birth, reach out for support. Call another mother, join a peer group of new and breastfeeding mothers, or talk to a lactation consultant or member of La Leche League International (LLLI).

This is general information and does not replace the advice of your physician or healthcare provider. If you have a problem you cannot solve quickly, seek help right away. Every baby is different, and your baby may not be average. If in doubt, contact your physician or other healthcare provider.

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