Breastfeeding is not easy for every new mother, but there are certainly scientifically-proven advantages to feeding your child breast milk during first years of his or her life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) actually recommends you feed your child breast milk for the first 2-years, although it says you can complement breast milk with other foods and liquids after the first 6-months. While some mothers give up on breastfeeding early due to barriers, WHO states getting support of a doctor or expert in the field can benefit your own health as well as your child’s early development…
1. Fighting off Infections Immediately after Birth
In the first days following delivery, your breasts produce colostrum, which is highly concentrated in carbohydrates, protein and antibodies to ensure your baby’s first days are healthy ones.
The La Leche League International notes that colostrum is actually similar to a vaccine in warding off viruses and infections in your baby. This is especially important, because conventional vaccines cannot be given to your baby until he or she is at least 2-months old (by Public Health Agency of Canada guidelines). Colostrum naturally progresses to milk after about 2-weeks of feeding, and still provides immunity.
2. Less Risk of Long-term Health Problems in Mothers
While many groups that encourage breastfeeding usually point to the benefits for the infants, there are also proven health benefits for you as a mother. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Sciences, breastfeeding can actually reduce serious health risks in mothers such as Type 2 diabetes, as well as breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
A 2010 article in Scientific American also states that the risk of heart disease in mothers is decreased by breastfeeding, because it is an effective way to break down the fats that tend to form around organs during pregnancy. The cardiovascular benefits continue into women’s post-menopausal years, according to the article.
3. Losing Weight and Getting into Pre-Baby Shape
Like many mothers who have just given birth, you may be fretting about weight gain and wondering if you’ll ever have your pre-pregnancy body back. La Leche League International said that losing weight may actually be easier during lactation (when you body produces milk), and women who breastfeed can expect to lose about 1.6-pounds per month up to the first 6-months.
There are of course other reasons to lose excess weight following a pregnancy other than having the looks you desire, namely to help encourage your long-term health. The Mayo Clinic notes that while breastfeeding can require up to 400- to 500-extra calories a day, it’s still important for you to eat healthy foods that are rich in nutrients such as whole bread and fruits.
4. Lower Chance of Postpartum Depression
While breastfeeding has proven physical benefits for you and your baby, it can also stave off postpartum depression, which affects about 13-percent of women within 14-weeks of giving birth. According to a 2014 study by researchers in the U.K. and Spain that appeared in the Maternal and Child Health journal, the chances of suffering from postpartum depression are about 50-percent lower in women who breastfeed.
The research focused on about 14,000 new mothers in Bristol, England, and measured mental health at specific intervals. The study found that the highest risk of postpartum depression is from mothers that planned to breastfeed during pregnancy, but for whatever reason did not follow through. The research showed a higher chance of postpartum symptoms at 8-weeks, with the risk dropping off significantly at 8-months.
5. Better Bonding with Baby
Psychology Today noted in a 2011 article that there’s another benefit of breastfeeding that goes beyond the physical. The time spent between you and your baby during nursing releases feel-good hormones for both of you and forms bonds that have ties to better outcomes later in life, according to the article.
According to a 2013 article on the National Center for Biotechnology Information website, children that were breastfed exhibit lower rates of anxiety and depression later in life. The study found that breastfeeding for at least 10-months had the biggest impact on mental health symptoms in children.
6. Reduced Financial Burden
While formula feeding also provides essential vitamins and nutrients to your baby, it can be expensive. In fact, when your baby is just a few weeks old he or she can consume close to 1.5 U.S. gallons of formula in just one week, which can cost you thousands of dollars per year if the formula is prepared in advance (powdered formula is usually cheaper).
The cost savings could go beyond your household – according to a 2010 article in Scientific American, the country could save $13-billion a year (based on previous data) on medical costs if 90-percent of women breastfed for the recommended first six months. According to the article, only 42-percent of women were still breastfeeding at 6-months. The financial data does not include savings related to the potential health benefits of mothers from breastfeeding.