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Many women are told to breastfeed simply because it will make them a “better mom.” I cringe whenever I hear this term because it carries a weight of judgment with it and propels the thinking of one group of moms being better than another. It’s like the same debate between going natural vs. getting an epidural or delivering naturally vs. getting a c-section. Besides deliberately putting your child’s life in danger, I don’t view anyone as a “bad mom,” just women striving to do the best that they can with the situation that they have. Putting unnecessary pressure on moms also does not help to support the breastfeeding process and can create more anxiety associated with it. However, research has shown that breastfeeding provides various benefits for both mom and baby. Today, I will discuss those benefits so that you can decide if breastfeeding is right for you and something you would like to explore. I absolutely recommend it for all moms who are able to do so, even if it’s just for a few weeks or a few months, but 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding is ideal. Remember, it is always your decision and you shouldn’t be ashamed if you are unable to breastfeed due to medical or lifestyle reasons.
1. Transfer antibodies to baby
A great medical benefit to breastfeeding is that your baby will receive antibodies that you have in your body, ultimately boosting his/her immune system. This is why breastfed babies have lower incidents of ear infections and respiratory illnesses. Breastmilk also carries something called Immunoglobulin A, which coats your baby’s intestinal lining. This results in less diarrhea, constipation, reflux, and exposure to allergens. Due to a boosted immune system and this special immunoglobulin, breastfed babies have less hospitalizations and lower rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). The effects continue as children become older, leading to a decreased risk for diabetes, asthma, allergies, eczema, cancer, GI disturbances, obesity, lupus, and arthritis. Receiving your antibodies during the infant stage provides a great foundation, which is why I encourage all moms to breastfeed for at least 2 weeks if possible.
2. Control postpartum bleeding
When you breastfeed, you release a hormone called oxytocin. This is actually the same hormone that causes you to go into labor and have contractions. Similarly, you will experience cramping as your uterus contracts during feedings. Although this can be uncomfortable (yet perfectly managed with ibuprofen) this mechanism is critical to control your bleeding after the postpartum period. A contracting uterus is better able to expel any remaining products, blood, and clots that may be left over from birth. The goal is for your uterus to return to it’s normal size by 6 weeks postpartum, and breastfeeding helps to facilitate this process. Your risk of anemia will also decrease since your bleeding will be more well controlled.
3. Economic benefits
Breastfeeding is absolutely free! Sure, you will probably buy items that make it easier, such as a breast pump, but the actual act of breastfeeding is free and can be done at any time, anywhere. The money that you would spend on formula can now be saved or spent elsewhere. You don’t have to bother with bottles unless you start pumping as well. In the middle of the night, it’ll be so much easier to just put your baby to the breast instead of preparing and warming up a bottle. It also makes traveling easier as your baby’s food supply is literally attached to you. You can pack less items and be able to feed your baby while on the plane/train/bus/car.
4. Bond with baby
As described above, oxytocin is released when you breastfeed, which helps your uterus contract. However, oxytocin also helps you bond with your baby as it promotes relaxation and loving feelings. Your baby will also benefit from skin-to-skin contact, which helps with temperature regulation. The position of breastfeeding also enhances eye contact with your baby and creates a feeling of closeness. This can make your baby more clam and reduce your risk of postpartum depression.
5. Increase your health
Research has also shown that breastfeeding has great lifelong health benefits for mom. It’s associated with less risk of breast and ovarian cancer, lupus, arthritis, endometriosis, osteoporosis, diabetes, high blood pressure, and cardiovascular disease. When you make the decision to breastfeed, not only are you boosting your baby’s health, but you are also boosting your own health and creating a more thriving family.
xoxo, Global Midwife