Breastfeeding does so much more than provide nutrition to your baby, and its benefits can have effects that last well after you have weaned.
If you’re considering breastfeeding or formula, we want you to know that both options are healthy and safe for your baby. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that moms breastfeed their babies for the first six months of their baby’s life, if possible, and continue until at least 12 months of age as solids foods are introduced.
Breastmilk contains all the protein, sugar, and fat a growing baby needs. But, in addition to providing nutrition, breastfeeding has lots of extra benefits as well:
1. Breastmilk provides protection against viruses and diseases
Breastmilk contains many extra substances that protect your baby from a wide variety of diseases and infections. These substances benefit your baby’s immune system, including antibodies, immune factors, enzymes, and white blood cells. Some of these protections even last long after your baby is weaned.
For example, if you were to get a virus, such as a cold or flu, your body will produce antibodies to fight the virus. You’ll share these antibodies with your baby as you breastfeed and can help your infant avoid developing that virus, or help them fight it quickly and effectively.
Breastfeeding your baby also significantly decreases the odds they will suffer from ear infections, respiratory tract infections, vomiting, diarrhea, pneumonia, urinary tract infections, and meningitis.
Breastfed babies also have a much lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Even after you’ve weaned, your baby will have a lower risk of developing type 1 and type 2 diabetes, childhood acute leukemia and lymphoma, and obesity in adolescence and adulthood.
2. Breastfeeding health benefits for moms
Breastfeeding is healthy for moms too! It helps moms immediately after birth by releasing the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin reduces postpartum bleeding and helps the uterus shrink back to its regular size more quickly.
Studies have also shown that women who have breastfed have reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer later in life. They also may have a reduced risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular diseases, including high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Breastfeeding can also delay the return of menstrual cycles. It can even provide contraception up to the first six months after birth if you are exclusively breastfeeding your baby without any supplements and your period has not returned. (However, don’t rely on this for birth control!)
3. Breastfeeding help mom and baby bond
Breastfeeding can foster a strong bond between mom and baby that supports your baby’s development and is just as important as breastmilk’s nutritional benefits. Two hormones augment this bond every time you nurse your baby. Prolactin produces a peaceful sensation that allows you to relax. Oxytocin promotes a strong sense of love and attachment between you and your baby.
Babies also feel a tremendous amount of comfort by having their mother’s warmth, physical closeness, and familiar smells when breastfeeding. Especially for young infants, that comfort and familiarity helps them transition from the life inside the womb to life outside the womb.
4. Breastmilk provides allergy protection
There is evidence breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from allergies. For families with a history of allergies, babies who were breastfed for at least 4 months generally had a lower risk of milk allergy, eczema, and wheezing early in life than babies given a standard cow’s milk-based formula or soy formula. The exact reason for this is unknown, but experts presume that breastmilk’s immune components provide protection against allergies. It may also be helpful that your baby is being exposed, in very small amounts, to everything in your diet.
5. Breastfeeding benefits healthy gut bacteria
Our intestines have a very large number of bacteria that serve normal and healthy functions, as well as some bacteria that causes diseases, such as diarrhea. Breastmilk helps create a healthy environment for good bacteria in your baby’s intestinal tract and supports its growth with prebiotics. The healthy bacteria growth inhibits harmful bacteria, like E. coli, from growing and attaching to the lining of the intestines.
Help with Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can come naturally, but like trying anything new, sometimes you need guidance and some practice. Make sure to ask for help from the lactation consultant on staff if you give birth at a hospital. After you come home, if you continue to have challenges, ask your provider at Pediatrics West for help. We want to help you be successful in your breastfeeding journey. We can connect you with a lactation specialist and breastfeeding support groups.