Welcome back to our series on the Benefits of Breastfeeding Baby! When I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I knew it was good for baby. I began to realize just how good it was for baby. And I also learned it was really good for me, too! One of my favorite finds? That the “goodness” doesn’t stop at the baby’s birthday! It is still good for baby and mom, for as long as they both want to continue. There’s no magical switch that’s flipped on her first birthday where all of a sudden, after diving into that smash cake, breastfeeding is no longer beneficial or good. Nope. Breastmilk continues to deliver: nutrients, emotional security, physical development, and more.
In fact, the WHO (World Health Organization) recognizes the benefits are so great for both mother and child, that they recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life and “up to two years of age or beyond.” Wow! That’s some serious endorsement!
Benefits to Baby
The La Leche League, International quotes the book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding:
The … antibodies in [breastfeeding] protect the baby from illness. …Breastfed babies have a decreased likelihood for allergies and dental caries. They also benefit from appropriate jaw, teeth and speech development as well as overall facial development. This means that people who were artificially fed may experience more trips to doctors and dentists.
But more specifically, Dr. Sears gives a very long list of specific ways breastmilk is good for baby. Did you know all of these? I sure didn’t!
- Brain. Higher IQ in breastfed children. Cholesterol and other types of fat in human milk support the growth of nerve tissue.
- Eyes. Visual acuity is higher in babies fed human milk.
- Ears. Breastfed babies get fewer ear infections.
- Mouth. Less need for orthodontics in children breastfed more than a year. Improved muscle development of face from suckling at the breast. Subtle changes in the taste of human milk prepare babies to accept a variety of solid foods.
- Throat. Children who are breastfed are less likely to require tonsillectomies.
- Respiratory system. Evidence shows that breastfed babies have fewer and less severe upper respiratory infections, less wheezing, less pneumonia and less influenza.
- Heart and circulatory system. Evidence suggests that breastfed children may have lower cholesterol as adults. Heart rates are lower in breastfed infants.
- Digestive system. Less diarrhea, fewer gastrointestinal infections in babies who are breastfeeding. Six months or more of exclusive breastfeeding reduces risk of food allergies. Also, less risk of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis in adulthood.
- Immune system. Breastfed babies respond better to vaccinations. Human milk helps to mature baby’s own immune system. Breastfeeding decreases the risk of childhood cancer.
- Endocrine system. Reduced risk of getting diabetes.
- Kidneys. With less salt and less protein, human milk is easier on a baby’s kidneys.
- Appendix. Children with acute appendicitis are less likely to have been breastfed.
- Urinary tract. Fewer infections in breastfed infants.
- Joints and muscles. Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis is less common in children who were breastfed.
- Skin. Less allergic eczema in breastfed infants.
- Growth. Breastfed babies are leaner at one year of age and less likely to be obese later in life.
- Bowels. Less constipation. Stools of breastfed babies have a less-offensive odor.
These are some serious benefits! If you’ve been around here long, you know that it took a long time for me to get my supply up to breastfeed the trio. Until I could, they did get formula (my full story is here: Breastfeeding Triplets: A Battle of Love). I can attest to the bowel issues, the ears and the skin issues listed above when the babies were not on formula!
Benefits to Mom
The La Leche League, International goes on to quote the book, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, by saying:
…Some of the physical benefits of breastfeeding for the mother [are] reduced rates of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The time saved for mother is immense also. 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.
Is this not so true?? At least, the last part has been! I remember the first time we went to church with our three babies. I nursed two (one at a time), the third was fed a bottle, and I pumped. It took about an hour and required I bring a bottle, formula (how to heat up the bottle?!), my hospital-grade pump, and my little cooler for the expressed milk. This was on top of the three babies, two strollers and two diaper bags.
And for New Year’s Eve when the babies were three months old we headed over to our dear friends’ with their three week old trio (yes, that’s six babies under three months). I had to pack all of the above and also disappear to pump. This reduced the team in their living room from four adults to three, still with six babies to manage!
Now, certainly my situation was a tad bit unusual and most moms don’t have quite the gear or requirements we had. However, if I’m breastfeeding I need nothing other than…me! There’s nothing to remember – no bottles, no formula, no pump! Now that is a post-partum-exhausted-mind-break if I ever saw one!
KellyMom lists some other incredible benefits to mom:
- Saves money. Clearly a benefit!
- Helps mom relax. I would add to not expect this experience immediately after delivery – awesome if it comes naturally. Most times, though, there’s a rather large learning curve as both you and your baby discover what each is supposed to do. Once this happens, it is relaxing.
- Helps mom’s uterus return to size more quickly. Can I just say that I have been amazed how God created this part of the body to work?? More on this later…
- Can be easier to lose weight. Milk production uses 200-500 calories a day! Alicia Dermer states in A Well-Kept Secret that a non-breastfeeding post-partum mama would have to bicycle uphill for an hour each day in order to burn the same number of calories! Certainly weight-loss isn’t the goal here and shouldn’t even (in my opinion) be a focus for some time after Baby is born (let’s face it – we’re just too tired!). But it can be a nice plus!
- Can help space babies. If baby is exclusively breastfed and mom’s cycle hasn’t returned, breastfeeding is nearly 100% effective at spacing babies. However, I have no personal experience with this. Ha! Anyone care to weigh in on this one?
Please note: If you were unable to breastfeed or chose not to breastfeed, the intent of this post is not in any way to minimize the many sacrifices you have made for your baby(ies)! Please do not feel guilty! As a formula-feeding mom for some months, I was quite acquainted with the feeling of guilt and would not wish that on anyone. At all. You’re a good mama. Period. =)
What are some other benefits to breastfeeding – for mom or baby?
Linked up at Atta Mama.