Experts agree that breastfeeding has a wealth of benefits. Breastfeeding is not only a fantastic way to set your baby up for a healthy start in life, it also provides additional benefits later in life for you both. This is definitely what you’d call a win-win situation.
Benefits for you both
The physical contact you have with your baby while you hold them and breastfeed provides warmth, closeness, and special time to be together. This isn’t to say that breastfeeding will be sunshine and rainbows, because it can be tough. But the intimacy created when your little one nurses, and the skin-to-skin contact that triggers the release of oxytocin, the “love” hormone, plays a key role in early bonding.
Benefits for baby
Breastfeeding provides Baby with all they need in early life to grow and develop. Breast milk has just the right balance of calories, fluids, and nutrients — and it even adapts over time to respond to your baby’s changing needs! It is also very easy for your baby to digest.
There are plenty of additional benefits too. While babies are protected by their mother’s immune systems in the womb, breastfed babies receive antibodies through breast milk. And breast milk offers protective immune benefits as babies grow and their immune systems develop.
Breast milk can also help protect against childhood illness. Breastfed babies are less likely to have ear infections, diarrhea, pneumonia, and other viral and bacterial infections. Some research suggests that further benefits include protection from obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), asthma, eczema, colitis, some allergies, and some cancers.
Breast milk also seems to have protective benefits later in life. Those who were breastfed as babies are less likely to develop rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and some breast cancers.
Benefits for you
Remember that oxytocin mentioned above? One of the other rather interesting ways that breastfeeding helps you immediately after birth is that when Baby nurses as a newborn, it triggers uterine contractions. Some people don’t feel them, and others might experience discomfort, but these cramps, also called afterpains, help squeeze and shrink your uterus back down to it’s pre-pregnancy size more quickly and may decrease postpartum bleeding.
Breastfeeding can delay the return of your period too, which helps your body hold onto more iron. It can also act a contraceptive and help with birth spacing. (Breastfeeding can serve as a means of birth control during the first six months postpartum, but only if you’re breastfeeding exclusively at least once every six hours and your period hasn’t returned.)
Because you burn so many calories breastfeeding, you may also lose weight faster. Breastfeeding requires about an extra 500 calories a day, which is more extra calories than pregnancy requires!
Breastfeeding even protects you from disease and illness later in life. Moms who breastfeed have lower risks of high blood pressure, certain types of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and type 2 diabetes. Breastfeeding can also help keep your bones strong, protecting against fractures later in life.
A few more notable benefits? Breastfeeding is portable (since it’s always wherever you are!), is doesn’t require supplies, it’s always the right temperature, and it’s always there when your baby needs it.
Set yourself up for success
Breastfeeding is a fantastic way to set your baby up for success at the start of their life and as they grow, and it can benefit you too. As incredible as breastfeeding is, it can also be plenty challenging. It takes time to get into the rhythm of things with your new baby. You might also need to work through challenges, and your experience with breastfeeding can change over time. So be sure to get the support you need. Before you have your baby, breastfeeding classes can be very helpful to get familiar with the basics and learn what you should expect. And once your little one is born, certified lactation consultants can be a huge help in assisting you through any challenges you face along the way. You deserve the help you need to succeed and reach your breastfeeding goals.
- Joan Y. Meek. “Infant benefits of breastfeeding.” UpToDate. Wolters Kluwer Health, June 4 2020. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/infant-benefits-of-breastfeeding.
- “Benefits of Breastfeeding.” American Academy of Pediatrics. American Academy of Pediatrics. Retrieved July 15 2020. https://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/Breastfeeding/Pages/Benefits-of-Breastfeeding.aspx
- “Breastfeeding.” World Health Organization. World Health Organization. Retrieved July 15 2020. https://www.who.int/maternal_child_adolescent/topics/child/nutrition/breastfeeding/en/.
- “Breastfeeding: Recommendations and Benefits.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, November 4 2019. Retrieved July 15 2020. https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/infantandtoddlernutrition/breastfeeding/recommendations-benefits.html.
- “Breatfeeding Your Baby.” The American College of Obestericins and Gynecologists.The American College of Obestericins and Gynecologists. Retrieved July 15 2020. https://www.acog.org/patient-resources/faqs/labor-delivery-and-postpartum-care/breastfeeding-your-baby
- “Why Breastfeed.” healthychildren.org. American Academy of Pediatrics, Jue 6 2018. Retrieved July 15 2020. https://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/baby/breastfeeding/Pages/Why-Breastfeed.aspxSources