Becoming a parent for the first, second, or even third time can be scary. No baby is the same, and it is always a continuous journey. However, during this journey together, why not give your child the best start? Our bodies can provide our children with the best nutrients that is both natural and free.
What is breastfeeding? Breastfeeding is the oldest form of feeding one’s child. Breastfeeding involves feeding a mother’s breast milk to her infant, either directly from the breast or by expressing (pumping) the milk from the breast and feeding it to the infant through a bottle, sippy cup, spoon, or tubing (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.). Breast milk is unique because it is continuously changing to meet the needs of the infant. Breast milk is a live substance with unmatched immunological and anti-inflammatory properties that protect against a host of illnesses and diseases for both mother and child (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011).
How Long is it Recommended to Breastfeed? Although there is no correct time length to breastfeed one’s child, there have been many studies determining that the longer the child is breastfed, the more benefits received. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding for at least 12 months, while the World Health Organization recommends continued breastfeeding up to the age of 2 or beyond (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2015). Unfortunately, many women today are unable to reach the minimum suggested time to breastfeed, and often the benefits provided from doing so are missed.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Child There are numerous benefits provided by breastfeeding that are not offered through formula feeding. Breastfeeding provides an infant with essential calories, vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients needed for ideal growth, health, and development (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, n.d.). Breast milk contains antibodies that help protect infants from common childhood illnesses such as diarrhea and pneumonia, the two primary causes of child mortality globally. (World Health Organization, 2015). Along with health benefits, breast milk also provides psychological benefits to the child. Studies have shown that breastfeeding alone produced better brain development than a combination of breastfeeding and formula or formula alone (Brown University, 2013). As the breastfed infant grows, the benefits provided will follow them throughout life. Adolescents and adults who were breastfed as babies are less likely to be overweight or obese, less likely to have type 2 diabetes, and perform better on intelligence tests (World Health Organization, 2015). Even though there are thousands of known nutrients and benefits provided by breast milk, researchers are still finding new benefits and uses for this liquid gold.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Mother The child is not the sole recipient of the benefits attained from breastfeeding. The breastfeeding mother is also exposed to physical and psychological benefits. Immediately after birth, the repeated suckling of the baby releases oxytocin from the mother's pituitary gland that signals the breasts to release milk to the baby, and it produces contractions in the uterus. These contractions prevent postpartum hemorrhage and promote uterine involution (the return to a nonpregnant state) (Dermer, 2001). Milk production requires less iron than the amount the mother would lose from menstrual bleeding, which in turn decreases the risk of iron-deficiency anemia in the breastfeeding mother (Dermer, 2001). Breastfeeding and diabetes management also go hand in hand. Mothers with a history of gestational diabetes who breastfeed have lower blood sugars than mothers who did not choose to breastfeed. (Dermer, 2001). Women with type 1 diabetes prior to their pregnancies tend to need less insulin while they breastfeed due to their reduced sugar levels (Dermer, 2001). Breastfeeding also helps to shed baby fat and/or make up for the extra calories consumed during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is an active metabolic process, burning 200 to 500 calories per day, on average. This equates to someone swimming at least 30 laps in a pool or bicycle uphill for an hour daily (Dermer, 2001). With weight loss and improved blood sugar control, breastfeeding may pay off with a lower risk of heart complications. This is important as heart attacks are a common killer of women (Dermer, 2001). Breastfeeding helps to reduce the risk of certain cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer. Ovarian cancer was found to be 27 percent higher for women who had never breastfed than for those who had breastfed for some period (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). Along with physical benefits, there are emotional benefits that the mother may also receive. Breastfeeding may help to lower the risk of postpartum depression, a serious condition that almost 13 percent of mothers experience (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011). Postpartum depression is a serious risk after childbirth and is important to address if one feels they have it, otherwise taking care of oneself and one’s child may prove to be challenging. Exclusive breastfeeding is also associated with a natural (though not fail-safe) method of birth control (98% protection in the first six months after birth). However, breastfeeding is not guaranteed to prevent pregnancy, and so it is recommended to seek other contraceptive methods from your health care provider as well.