9 Unexpected Benefits of Breast-Feeding

Medically reviewed by Laura Marusinec, MD on April 11, 2016Written by Daniela Ginta

benefits of breastfeeding

The last few years have seen a comeback to breast-feeding.

There has been an increase in the number of voices who stand by the health organizations’ recommendations. They recommend that mothers practice exclusive breast-feeding for six months, and continue to breast-feed once solid foods are introduced, until the age of 2 or until both mom and baby agree to call it quits.

You may have come across information about breast milk being the right food from the very start. It’s true: Breast milk comes with just the right balance of nutrients for the baby, starting with the fat- and antibody-rich colostrum. Colostrum becomes the perfect food that that your body will continuously adapt to your baby’s needs as they grow.

You may have also heard that your baby’s risk of obesity later in life, or their risk of allergies and asthma, will be reduced if you breast-feed. You may have heard that their ability to ace those IQ tests will increase if they get your milk. But there are some more amazing and unexpected benefits that breast-feeding provides for you and your baby, according to the latest research.

Benefits for baby

Breast-feeding provides baby with custom-made antibodies

The first milk gives your baby an extra helping on immunoglobulins, which are complex molecules that will help boost their immature immune system. That means your body will produce antibodies based on what you come in contact with.

In other words, exposure to various pathogens, such as viruses and bacteria, will amp up your own immune system. This will in turn produce antibodies that your baby will get through your milk. They will therefore get protection against these pathogens.

Breast-feeding provides a feel-good hormone boost

Breast-feeding, through the hormone oxytocin, helps baby see the world in friendlier terms. It helps calm them down, be more social, and feel safe. Oxytocin is the same hormone that gets released in your body after sex and helps secure the bond between you and your partner.

Breast-feeding provides the perfect nutrients

Remember the recommendation that you should eat what’s in season? Your baby gets perfectly tailored food for all seasons. Your breast milk is more watery in the summer, and thicker and higher in fat during the cold months. Breast-feeding is the perfect way to keep baby hydrated, satiated, and never too far away from their source of food!

Breast-feeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)

This alone is reason enough to commit to breast-feeding. Just make sure to put the baby back in their crib or bassinet before going back to sleep. The American Academy of Pediatrics opposes bed sharing due to possible risks of smothering the baby. They recommend room sharing, which means having the baby within arm’s reach from the mother in a crib by the bed, bassinet, or cot, so that you can nurse as often as needed and also keep an eye on the baby.

Benefits for mom

Breast-feeding your baby will give you a boost in self-esteem

Do the ups and downs caused by postpartum hormones plus an irregular and insufficient sleep schedule affect your mood? That’s one reason to hold your baby close and nurse them. It will boost your confidence as you see your little one growing and developing with what your body provides.

Breast-feeding reduces the risk of cancer

The results are in, and they confirm previous research. Your risk of breast cancer is reduced by 26 percent if you nurse your baby for a year or more. The risk of ovarian cancer is reduced by 37 percent in moms who breast-fed for over a year. As for your baby, your milk may also lower the risk of childhood cancers. A win-win for both of you!

Breast-feeding reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes

Yep, that would be a 32 percent reduction for mom. A current and ongoing study in BioMed Central is even studying the relationship between breast-feeding and growth of infants who have mothers with diabetes. In a world where so much can increase diabetes risk (lack of exercise, diet, and stress), simply cuddling with baby and nursing them could reduce the risk for both of you.

Breast-feeding forces you to make healthier food choices

As your tiredness levels increase and you crave comfort food, the thought that your little one depends on you for good and healthy nutrients may help you opt for better food choices. Healthier foods will provide both of you with proper nourishment and adequate energy.

Other benefits

Breast-feeding can help the planet

Yes, you read that correctly. Less demand for formula means fewer cows, which means less methane released in the atmosphere. Good for the baby in the long run? You bet. On top of it, breast milk comes with its own package, thus reducing the garbage burden on Mother Earth.

Breast-feeding cons

In choosing to breast-feed, you have made a decision that ensures great health for both you and baby, in the short and long run. But breast-feeding comes with a few sacrifices as well.

You may have to reduce your regular java intake for a while

Caffeine in large amounts is not ideal for your newborn, so reduce your consumption to a maximum of one to two cups a day. Or consider going coffee-free for a while if you notice unexplained restlessness or jitteriness in your baby.

You may have to forgo alcoholic drinks

One drink is acceptable, as long as you do not nurse in the next two hours after it. Rule of thumb: Two hours of no nursing per drink, but ideally you can express prior to drinking to avoid giving baby any alcohol with his meal. Please remember that alcohol can make you less responsive to baby’s needs! And, if you have consumed alcohol, it’s extra important not to sleep with your baby.

Yes, you’re on call

Day or night, you’re on. When you’re feeling the pressure, remind yourself of all the good reasons why you chose to breast-feed. Consider also taking a short break to care for yourself. That’s part of being a parent.

The verdict

The list could go on, and chances are that research will keep bringing more arguments in favor of breast-feeding. Mother’s milk is nothing short of miraculous.

As an extra benefit, ask any seasoned parent about those first cuddles and they will tell you the big secret: It goes by fast. Enjoy every second of being close to your baby. Every one of those cuddles will help contribute to a healthy, solid bond with your growing baby. 

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