A woman grows both physically and emotionally from the time she forms a relationship with her baby. Breastfeeding not only ensures that optimal nutrition is provided to the infant but also helps in aiding the mother’s health. However, in some women, the rate of breastfeeding is as low as 30%. While some women are unable to breastfeed their infants, others choose not to. Thus it is important to understand the various health benefits of breastfeeding for both the mother and her baby.
1. Breast Milk Provides Ideal Nutrition for Babies
Most health professionals recommend breastfeeding the infant for a minimum of six months as it contains everything the baby needs. However, the only exception is the presence of vitamin D. Additionally, the composition changes according to the baby’s changing needs, typically during the first month of life. During the first few days after birth, the breast produces a thick yellowish fluid called colostrum that is rich in protein and loaded with beneficial compounds. The colostrum helps the newborn’s immature digestive system develop.
2. Breast Milk Contains Essential Antibodies
The presence of antibodies in breast milk helps the baby fight off viruses and bacteria. This is particularly applicable to colostrum (the first milk). Colostrum supplies a high amount of immunoglobulin A (IgA), and several other antibodies, that protect the baby from getting sick.
Also read: Busting Myth: You Shouldn’t Overfeed (Breastfeeding) The Baby
3. Breastfeeding Is Likely To Reduce Disease Risk
Breastfeeding may reduce your baby’s risk of illnesses and diseases, including respiratory tract infections, SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome), middle ear infections, gut infections, allergic diseases like asthma, and many more. That said, the protective effects of breastfeeding seem to last not just throughout childhood but throughout adulthood as well.
4. Breast Milk Contributes To Healthy Weight
Breastfeeding the baby ensures a healthy weight gain and helps prevent childhood obesity. Moreover, babies fed on breast milk have more leptin in them, which is a key hormone for regulating appetite as well as fat storage.
5. Breastfeeding May Help Mothers To Lose Weight
While some women may gain weight during breastfeeding, for some it may be effortlessly easy to lose weight. Although, during the period, the body’s hormonal balance is very different from that of normal. These hormonal changes may increase the appetite in mothers and they are likely to be prone to storing fat for milk production. Thus, the key to losing weight is the right diet and exercising regularly.
Also read: 7 Must-Have Nursing (Maternity) Bras For The Ultimate Comfort
6. Breastfeeding Helps The Uterus Contract
Breastfeeding increases the production of oxytocin, a hormone that causes contractions in the uterus. During the gestation period, the uterus grows immensely, expanding from the size of a pea to filling nearly the entire space in the abdomen.
Post-delivery, the uterus undergoes a process called involution, which helps it return to its previous size. Oxytocin is responsible for the process. The hormone helps deliver the baby, reduce bleeding, and the level of oxytocin also increases during the process. Therefore, it helps in uterine contractions, reduces bleeding, and helps the uterus return to its previous size.
7. Mothers Who Breastfeed Have A Lower Risk Of Depression
Postpartum depression usually occurs shortly after childbirth and affects up to 15% of mothers. Women who breastfeed are less prone to postpartum depression as compared to mothers who wean early or do not breastfeed. This is because while breastfeeding, the production of oxytocin increases, which encourages caregiving, relaxation, and bonding between mother and child.
8. Breastfeeding Reduces Disease Risk In Mothers
Breastfeeding is more likely to provide the mother with long-term protection against cancer and other diseases. Thus, the total time spent on breastfeeding is directly proportional to the reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer. For instance, women who breastfeed for more than a year, have a 28% lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Furthermore, women who breastfeed for a year or two over their lifetime, have a 10-50% lower risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes, arthritis, and high blood fat.
Note that if you are unable to breastfeed your baby, opting for a feeding formula is completely fine as long as your baby is provided with all the important nutrients. Moreover, mothers who breastfeed are likely to experience the benefits, such as reduced stress and convenience. As an added benefit, breastfeeding also gives you a valid reason to sit down and relax while you bond with your precious one. That said, remember to consult your medical professional in case of any query or concern. Seeking professional guidance is always advisable.
About the Author: Joyce Jayaseelan is a Lactation Consultant at Fortis Hospital, Bengaluru.
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