So you are trying to decide if breastfeeding is the best option for you, your baby, and your situation.
One thing that can make it easier to decide is knowing the benefits of breastfeeding a baby.
- 11 Types of Breastfeeding Positions
- What to Do When Your Milk is Leaking While Breastfeeding
- How to Eat a Vegetarian Diet While Breastfeeding
- 9 Common Breastfeeding Concerns
A Brief Overview of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding, also called nursing is when a mother feeds her baby milk from her breast. Health professionals recommend that breastfeeding begins within the first hour of your baby’s life and continues as often and as much as your baby wants. (1)
Within the first few weeks of your newborn’s life, your baby will nurse every two to three hours and the feeding lasts around ten to fifteen minutes on each breast. Older babies start eating less often. There are benefits of breastfeeding a baby that is lacking in formula feeding.
10 Benefits of Breastfeeding a Baby
1. Breastfeed Babies May Reduce Disease Risk
- Middle ear infections: 3 or more months of exclusive breastfeeding may reduce the risk of up to 50% while breastfeeding for any amount of time could reduce the risk by 23%.
- Respiratory tract infections: Exclusive breastfeeding for more than 4 months reduces the risk of hospitalization for these infections for up to 72%.
- Colds and infections: If a baby is exclusively breastfed for 6 months may have up to a 62% lower risk of serious colds and ear or throat infections.
- Gut infections: Breastfeeding is linked with a 64% reduction in gut infections, this can be seen up to 2 months after a mom stops breastfeeding a baby.
- Celiac disease: There is a 52% lower risk of developing celiac disease if a baby is breastfeeding at the time of being exposed to gluten for the first time.
- Inflammatory bowel disease: Babies are 30% less likely to develop childhood inflammatory bowel disease if they breastfeed.
- Diabetes: Studies show that breastfeeding for at least 3 months reduces the risk of type 1 diabetes (up to 30%) and type 2 diabetes (up to 40%).
- Childhood leukemia: Breastfeeding for 6 months or longer is linked with a 15-20% reduction in the risk of childhood leukemia.
2. Protects Against Allergies and Eczema
If you have a family history of allergies, it might be especially beneficial for you to breastfeed your baby. The proteins in human breast milk are easily digested while the proteins in cow’s milk and soy milk formulas can be harder for your baby to digest.
3. Causes Less Stomach Upset, Diarrhea, and Constipation Than Formula
Breast milk can be broken down into your baby’s body easily. This is especially true when your baby’s digestive system is still maturing and getting used to food.
4. Makes Vaccines More Effective
There is research that shows that breastfed babies have a better antibody response than babies fed with formula.
5. Gives Your Baby Protection
As you breastfeed your baby, you pass on immune factors and white blood cells through breast milk. This protects your baby against spinal meningitis, type 1 diabetes, and Hodgkin’s Lymphoma.
6. May Make Your Baby Smarter
The research is still inconclusive. But there are some studies that link breastfeeding to higher IQ scores later in childhood, even when you take socioeconomic factors into consideration. (2) It is believed that the fatty acids in breast milk are brain boosters.
7. Could Help Prevent Obesity
Some studies show that breastfed infants are less likely to become obese later in life. One theory is that if you are nursing you are more in tune with your baby’s cues that they are full, so they don’t eat too much. This helps babies to establish healthy eating patterns.
Another theory is that breastfed babies have higher amounts of gut bacteria, which may affect fat storage. (3) Plus a key hormone for regulating appetite and fat storage called leptin is found in higher quantities in breastfed babies.
8. Brings Baby Closer to You
Your baby will bond with you no matter if you feed them with a bottle or by breastfeeding. The skin-to-skin contact of breastfeeding is reassuring for a newborn.
9. Lessens the Risk of SIDS
The connection is unclear between breastfeeding and lowered risk of SIDS. But breastfed babies have a 50% reduced risk after the 1st month and there is a 36% reduced risk after the first year.
10. Breast Milk Contains Important Antibodies
Breast milk is loaded with antibodies that help your baby to fight viruses and bacteria. This especially applies to colostrum, the first breast milk.
Colostrum contains high amounts of a certain antibody called immunoglobin A (IgA). (4) IgA protects your baby from getting sick by forming a protective layer in your baby’s nose, throat, and digestive system.
There Are Benefits When Breastfeeding for You Too, Mama
1. May Help You Lose Weight
Milk production burns between 300 to 500 calories a day. This means you would have an easier time losing the pregnancy weight in a healthy way, slowly and without dieting. The important thing to remember whether you are lactating or not is that diet and exercise are still the most important factors in determining how much weight you will lose.
2. Helps the Uterus Contract
While you are pregnant, your uterus expands from the size of a small pear to filling the entire space of your abdomen. After you give birth, your uterus goes through a process called involution which helps to return it to its previous size.
The main hormone that drives this process is Oxytocin which is a hormone that increases during pregnancy. Oxytocin also increases during breastfeeding. It encourages uterine contractions and reduces bleeding which helps shrink the uterus to its original size.
3. Lowers Risk of Depression
Postpartum depression is a type of depression that can develop after birth and can affect up to 15% of mothers. There is evidence that mothers who breastfeed their babies are less likely to develop postpartum depression. This is compared to mothers that wean their babies early from being breastfed or formula feed to start with.
4. Delays Menstruation
Exclusively breastfeeding your baby around the clock will delay ovulation which means a delay in menstruation. Mothers normally won’t see their periods return fo six to eight months after delivery, even up to a year.
5. Lowers Your Risk of Ovarian and Breast Cancer
Studies show that women who breastfed have a reduced risk of ovarian and breast cancers. If a woman breastfeeds over 12 months during her lifetime she has a 28% reduced risk of both ovarian and breast cancers. (5) Every year that a woman breastfeeds accounts for a 4.3% decreased risk in breast cancer. (6)
6. Heals Your Body After Delivery
Oxytocin that is released when you baby nurses help your uterus to contract, reducing post-delivery blood loss. (7)
7. Can Give You Natural Birth-Control Protection
Because breastfeeding can keep you from ovulating it can be a form of birth control, but it isn’t extremely effective. Follow these guidelines if you want to keep form ovulating: You period must not have returned, you must breastfeed at least every four hours around the clock, you must not give your baby any pacifiers, bottles, or formula, and you must be less than six months postpartum.
8. Bonding With Your Baby
This might be the most important benefit of breastfeeding for you. Nursing allows you to have something special that you and your baby share. When you are breastfeeding your baby, you exchange looks, noises, and cuddles and you communicate love to each other.
9. Saves You Money and Time
When you breastfeed, you don’t have to worry about the cost of formula. Which definitely adds up over time. You don’t have to worry about having to calculate how much your baby needs to eat every day.
You won’t have to spend time cleaning and sterilizing bottles. You won’t have to mix and warm up bottles in the middle of the night. You won’t have to figure out ways on how to warm up the bottles while on the go.
10. Makes You Eco-Friendly
Breast milk does not require the use of energy to manufacture it and does not create air or waste pollution. There is no risk of contamination and it is always the right temperature and ready to eat.
Even If You Don’t Stick with Breastfeeding, Here Are Some Benefits
For optimal health benefits, the American Academy of Pediatrics encourages new mothers to breastfeed their new baby for the first year. But no matter how long you are able to breastfeed, you will still give benefits to your baby.
1. Breastfeeding For Those First Few Days in the Hospital Gives Your Baby Colostrum
Colostrum, which is the first milk or “pre-milk” that comes in after you deliver your baby, is full of antibodies designed to protect your newborn baby.
2. Breastfeeding During Baby’s First Three Months Gives Your Baby’s Digestive System a Break
The proteins in soy milk and cow’s milk formula are hard for your brand new baby to digest. When your full milk comes in (normally three to four days after delivery) is higher in sugar and calories and is easily digested allowing your baby to eat more often.
3. Breastfeeding While Baby Starts Solids Gives a Smooth Transition
Your baby’s risk of developing food allergies goes down when you breastfeed them while transitioning them to solid foods.
4. Bonding of Breastfeeding
Nursing allows you to have skin-to-skin contact with your baby. Nursing for as long as you are able to give you and your baby a unique way to get to know each other.
Breastfeeding gives your baby important benefits such as antibodies and protection from diseases. Also when you breastfeed you experience benefits as well, like saving you money and time, as well as healing your body after delivery. So, even if you need to stop breastfeeding at some point, your baby and you will still reap the benefits.
Have you noticed any of these benefits in action as you have breastfed your baby?