For years, new moms have been encouraged to breastfeed, because of the benefits it can bring to both mother and baby. Dr. Kamilah Dixon-Shambley, a physician of obstetrics and gynecology at Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, says that while the decision to breastfeed is a personal decision, “I think every mother should consider this given the benefits to the mother. and the baby.
That’s because breast milk “is the ideal source of nutrients for infants,” notes Danielle Burns, health and lactation educator at CalOptima Bright Steps in Orange, California. “It’s easy to digest and contains the antibodies and enzymes needed to keep baby healthy. Breastfeeding also strengthens the bond between baby and mother.
“Breastfeeding is the clinical gold standard for infant health and well-being,” says Annette Leary, maternal educator at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies in Florida. That’s because it provides “all the proper nutrition, antibodies, and caloric needs for a growing baby.”
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby
Breastfeeding confers specific benefits on both mother and baby. The first of these is protection against disease. Protective antibodies pass from mother to baby through breast milk, “which can help protect the infant against various diseases,” says Dixon-Shambley.
This means that breastfed infants are less likely to:
During pregnancy, your body prepares to breastfeed. The milk that comes first, called colostrum, is a “natural superfood,” says Burns. It lasts about two to five days after delivery and helps the baby pass meconium, their first bowel movement. “It can also prevent jaundice in newborns and provide a good start for healthy growth and development.”
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom
While your baby benefits greatly from breastfeeding, it also has great benefits for the nursing parent. “The health benefits for the breastfeeding parent are too numerous to list,” says Leary, and they begin immediately after birth. “Breastfeeding hormones cause the uterus to contract, helping to prevent postpartum hemorrhage.”
Breastfeeding can also help you return to your pre-baby weight more quickly. it takes a lot of energy to create the milk your baby needs, and breastfeeding alone burns about 500 calories a day, says Leary.
However, postpartum weight loss occurs gradually, and numerous studies have shown that breastfeeding has little effect on maternal weight. It is important to focus on healthy diet and lifestyle choices.
Breastfeeding can also make you feel better. “Hormones produced during lactation promote a mental state of well-being, enhancing the bonding experience, while contributing to lactational amenorrhea (lack of menstruation), which helps space births,” says Leary.
There is a possible link between breastfeeding and the likelihood of developing postpartum depression. It also creates increased production of oxytocin and prolactin hormones which can help control stress.
Other benefits of lactation throughout life include:
Burns also notes that there is a financial reason to consider breastfeeding, as it “saves time and money. It’s always ready wherever you are and it’s free.
It is rare for a woman to be told not to breastfeed, but people with certain illnesses, such as HIV/AIDS, Ebola, cancer, and those taking certain medications such as antiretrovirals or undergoing chemotherapy should not breastfeed. Mothers who use substances like cocaine, PCP, or excessive amounts of alcohol should also not breastfeed. Talk to your doctor or a lactation specialist for advice on your specific situation.
“I recommend that expectant parents educate themselves, talk to their partner and their health care provider to make the most informed decision,” says Leary.
How long to breastfeed
“Breast milk is the only food a baby needs from birth to six months of age,” says Burns. At this point, you can start introducing solid foods in addition to continuing to breastfeed, which she says you can continue for as long as you want.
Leary agrees that you should breastfeed for as long as you’re comfortable, and adds that the World Health Organization, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics all recommend exclusive breastfeeding. for six months, followed by introduction of complementary foods while continuing to breastfeed for at least one to two years.
Dixon-Shambley also says that a year is a great timeframe to aim for, and if you decide to go longer, that’s “totally fine.” Even if you find that you need to supplement with formula, there are still benefits to breastfeeding. I always joke with my patients that every drop counts.
Finally, Leary notes that while breastfeeding is the natural option, it’s still “a learned art that, for some, isn’t easy. Babies take a lot of time and it takes a lot of patience to know their needs and how to feed themselves. Learn as much as you can during pregnancy, identify your support team before birth, and get help early.
Dixon-Shambley notes that sometimes it takes a little while for your milk to arrive and for you to figure out the best way to help your baby latch, “but stick with it.” She says there are plenty of providers who can help you figure it out, so don’t be shy – ask for help. Most hospitals have a lactation specialist or health educator available to help you.