Lactation education

Lactation consultant: Breastfeeding protects the health of mother and baby | Health

Breastfeeding is often seen as a gift between mother and baby. Not only does it provide bonding time, but the health benefits for both baby and mom are undeniable. Breastfeeding gives your baby all the nutrition and disease protection he needs for normal growth and protection against disease throughout his life.

August is National Breastfeeding Month, a month dedicated to educating women and families about the importance of breastfeeding. You may think breastfeeding comes naturally, but it may take more training than most people realize. Although it can be difficult, the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the trials, and they don’t stop after a few months. In fact, studies show that if you continue breastfeeding until your baby’s second birthday, you and your baby can reap more rewards.

How mom benefits from breastfeeding

Breastfeeding mothers get both short-term and long-term benefits. The most immediate benefit is the shared bond with your newborn. The eye contact and skin-to-skin contact you feel during mealtime can create a lasting bond. Other health benefits you experience when you start breastfeeding include:

  • Your uterus will shrink to pre-pregnancy size faster due to the hormones you release while breastfeeding.
  • Breastfeeding burns calories, so combined with a healthy diet and an appropriate level of activity, you can lose pregnancy weight faster.
  • You save time and money because you don’t clean bottles, measure formula or warm bottles.
  • Less stress from hormones released during breastfeeding.

Moms also see long-term health benefits of breastfeeding.

  • Breastfeeding women have reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and depression.
  • Studies also show that women with gestational diabetes who breastfeed for more than a year during their lifetime have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those who do not breastfeed.

How your baby benefits from breastfeeding

Many of the benefits for your baby come directly from your breast milk. Your breast milk will even change depending on the needs of the baby, especially in the first month. Breast milk, with its factors that decrease infection and inflammation, is especially important in preventing and decreasing infection in infants.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the health benefits of breastfeeding your baby include:

  • Fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal illnesses, colds and flu. Proteins in breast milk also fight bacteria.
  • Healthy growth and development. The proteins and fats in breast milk help meet the growth needs of babies, especially premature babies.
  • Better digestion throughout baby’s life. Breast milk contains helpful bacteria that are beneficial to the baby’s immune system and metabolism.
  • Protection against a variety of diseases and conditions including asthma, diabetes and childhood obesity.

Although no studies have documented the safety of vaccinating breastfeeding or breastfeeding individuals against COVID-19, there is a low likelihood of adverse effects. Additionally, there is reason to suspect that the antibodies generated by the COVID-19 vaccine will pass to the baby through breast milk. Therefore, nursing and breastfeeding individuals should not be discouraged from getting vaccinated, and once vaccinated there is no reason to stop or suspend breastfeeding.

Every child’s breastfeeding journey is different and support is needed not only from healthcare professionals, but also from family, friends, employers and the community. It can be difficult, and the time and energy can be an investment in overcoming these challenges. As a new or experienced mother, you may have many questions related to breastfeeding and it is important that you discuss them with your provider. They can connect you with resources before or after the baby is born. Additionally, lactation experts are available to mothers at all UPMC labor and delivery hospitals. These services are offered in person, by telephone consultation or by virtual appointment.

Natalie McCullen, RN, BSN, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant with The Birthplace at UPMC Magee-Womens in north-central Pennsylvania. She is certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. To make an appointment, call (570) 321-2092.

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