Benefits of Breastfeeding: Mother and Baby
It’s a well-known fact that breast is best. Breasts were made to feed babies, and although not every mother and baby can breastfeed or even pump, it still gives the baby the best start. The recommendation is to breastfeed for at least the first six months. Not only does it give your baby the nutrients they need, but it also gives many other benefits.
One of the primary benefits of breast milk is that it is custom-tailored for a baby's growing needs. Any infections mom and baby are exposed to, breast milk creates antibodies to fight, so the baby gets help with a strengthened immune system.
Benefits to the Baby
One of the primary benefits to the baby is that all breast milk is specially tailored to the baby’s nutritional needs. They start with colostrum, which is filled with antibodies needed to fight infection and ends with milk that gives the other vitamins and nutrients.
Breastfed babies also tend to get fewer cases of diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, constipation, and other digestive problems.
Aside from a stronger immune system, babies who have been breastfed tend to have fewer cases of conditions like asthma, Leukemia or Lymphoma cancers, both types of Diabetes, Chrones or Ulcerative Colitis, and other autoimmune problems like MS or Rheumatoid Arthritis down the road; along with better oral health, better weight control, and better respiratory functioning.
Breastfed babies also have higher cognitive abilities as they get older and tend to become more adjusted as adults.
Benefits to the mother
There are many positive benefits that breastfeeding brings. It brings a closer bond to the baby and helps stave off postpartum depression. It also leads to weight loss and a better ability to control weight gain, producing and nursing burn an average of 500 to 700 extra calories a day.
While it may not help with weight loss alone, for an active mom it definitely helps.
The hormones that are released from breastfeeding can keep women from getting pregnant again, exclusively breastfeeding can stop ovulation. It’s not foolproof though, so it is best to use a safe contraceptive or another form of birth control.
Hormonal changes also make Post Partum Depression and Anxiety less common and help keep the mood up.
Breastfeeding helps the mother’s body heal faster from either type of birth, it helps the uterus shrink back faster and helps form a stronger bond with the baby.
Again, thanks to hormones, cases of ovarian and some other types of cancer are lower in women who have breastfed.
Mothers also have lower rates of obesity (thanks to extra calories being burned), heart disease, diabetes, and other diseases.
Breastfeeding is cheaper than formula. Pumps can be rented out by WIC and some hospital offices, or bought for cheaper prices. Formula has a high cost and even higher if the baby needs a specialty formula.
It’s also easier to find a private location and feed the baby when out than having to carry a bottle, formula and make sure all the supplies are accessible and clean.
Downsides to Breastfeeding
Despite all the positives, there are some downsides as well. Not every woman can breastfeed. There are times the milk supply doesn’t come in or dries up early.
Babies can have problems latching which can lead to the need to supplement- either with bottle feeding formula or pumping milk. Those times with a bottle can lead to the baby not nursing when things are cleared up, or they can reject the bottle, but that can be overcome with some work.
Pumping takes more time, effort and is painful. It also doesn’t stimulate quite the same way baby does, so pumping doesn’t always work as breastfeeding does.
Another downside some moms find is the restrictions. Limiting alcohol intake at parties (or avoiding parties altogether) and having to take time every 2-3 hours to feed or pump. Those can make new parenthood feel like it’s all-consuming but it’s best to fight through for the first six to twelve months- when the baby gets the most benefit from feeding.
Breastfeeding is uncomfortable. There are late-night feedings where the mom has to get up and can’t have the dad. There is the need to feed or pump every 2-3 hours before engorgement takes effect- and engorgement hurts. Babies grow teeth and can bite, suction can be too high when pumping, and nipples can get dried out.
Not every medication is safe to use. If the mom is on certain types of medications; like antidepressants and a lot of psych medications are unsafe to take while nursing but can have devastating effects if they’re stopped. With any medication, it is best to ask a doctor or pharmacist and only stop needed medications under a doctor’s supervision. There are alternatives to a lot of medications doctors can prescribe to allow breastfeeding.
Most medications do cross over into breastmilk, but most don’t cross too bad and the small amounts won’t be enough to harm the baby.
Breastfeeding may not be the best option for every mom. Moms who have certain types of jobs and can’t get the time to pump or nurse or who need to take certain medications but if it’s possible, breastfeeding’s benefits go beyond infancy and extend into adulthood and outweigh the negatives.
If you’re currently pregnant and wanting to learn more about breastfeeding, most hospitals will offer resources. WIC offices also offer lactation and breastfeeding support and you can find resources online here.
Meet Our KeaMommy Contributor: Bethany Boggs
Bethany Boggs is a 30 something married mother of 2 kids. When she is not writing or working her day job, you can find her wrangling her 2 girls and 3 cats while sipping cold Starbucks and trying to remember why she walked into the room.