Breastfeeding benefits help your baby get a healthy start in life. The advantages of breastfeeding extend to moms, too, boosting physical and emotional health.
Breast milk is known to be the best source of nutrition for most babies. One of the remarkable advantages of breastfeeding is that your breast milk changes over time to provide the nutrition a growing baby needs, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) points out.
Citing a host of breastfeeding benefits, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding as soon as possible after your baby is born, usually within the first hour, and nursing whenever your infant shows signs of hunger. The AAP also urges exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, while you gradually add solid foods, and continuing until at least the child’s first birthday, so your baby continues to have the health benefits of breastfeeding.
While the advantages of breastfeeding for babies are well-established, it turns out there are breastfeeding benefits for moms, too. In fact, nursing is associated with a reduced risk of several diseases — including some forms of cancer — as well as other health and emotional benefits.
Breastfeeding benefits the immune system
Breast milk provides all the protein, sugar, and fat a baby needs, but it also has white blood cells, enzymes, and other substances beneficial for your baby’s immune system that are not found in formulas. Human milk also contains prebiotics, substances that encourage the growth of “friendly” bacteria in a breastfed infant’s intestinal tract and inhibit the growth of illness-causing bacteria, such as E. coli.
The immune system benefits of breastfeeding lower the odds your child will suffer from ear infections, urinary tract infections, pneumonia, vomiting, diarrhea, and even a certain type of spinal meningitis (a serious infection of the fluid and membranes around the brain and spinal cord).
Bottom line: Breastfeeding can protect your baby against a wide variety of short-term and long-term infections and diseases, the CDC notes.
For example, researchers found babies under the age of one who received breast milk only for at least four months were less likely to be hospitalized for a lower respiratory tract infection, including pneumonia and croup, than formula-fed infants. What’s more, even infants exposed to more germs because they are in group child care programs are less likely to become sick if their moms breastfeed or provide mothers’ milk in a bottle, according to the AAP.
Breastfeeding may help with allergy prevention, too, if allergies tend to run in your family. While more research is needed, the AAP explains there is some evidence breastfed babies are less likely to have milk allergy, eczema, and wheezing early in life if they are fed breast milk exclusively for at least four months.
More health benefits of breastfeeding for your baby
You may hesitate to breastfeed if you develop a cold — but there’s no reason to stop nursing. Instead, another advantage of breastfeeding is your breast milk will contain antibodies fighting the cold, and you’ll pass these on to your baby. That will help your infant either avoid getting sick from your cold, or recover from the virus quickly and effectively, according to the AAP.
The fact antibodies and other immunologic substances are transferred to babies via breastmilk may explain why children who receive breast milk for six months or longer are less likely than formula-fed infants to develop several serious and potentially life-threatening diseases — including childhood acute leukemia and lymphoma.
Moreover, several studies have shown between a 36 and 50 percent reduction in the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) if babies are breastfed. In addition, the AAP points out researchers have recently documented breastfed infants are less likely to become obese as teens and adults, and they also have a lower risk of developing both type 1 and type 2 diabetes, compared to youngsters who were not nursed.
We can’t emphasize this enough: Moms receive health benefits of breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can help mothers feel physically and emotionally connected with their babies. These feelings are amplified by the impact of hormones released by nursing. Prolactin produces a feeling of peace and relaxation and oxytocin promotes a nurturing sense of attachment and affection. In addition, oxytocin causes the uterus to return to its pre-pregnancy size quickly and can reduce postpartum bleeding, too.
Health benefits of breastfeeding for moms also include:
- Because breastfeeding uses up extra calories, mothers who nurse can drop excess pounds quickly and easily.
- Women who have breastfed have a lower risk of breast and ovarian cancer later in life.
- Research suggests breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure.
April 07, 2020
Janet O’Dell, RN