Breastfeeding is often considered a gift between mother and child. Not only the bonding time, but the health benefits for the baby and the mother are undeniable.
Breastfeeding provides your baby with all the nutrition and immunity it needs for normal development and lifelong disease prevention.
August is National Breastfeeding Month, a month dedicated to educating women and families about the importance of breastfeeding. You might think that breastfeeding comes naturally, but it can take a lot more training than most people think.
Although it can be challenging, the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the challenges, and they won’t stop after a few months.
In fact, studies show that continuing to breastfeed through your baby’s second birthday can reap many rewards for you and your baby.
How does a mother benefit from breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding mothers reap both short- and long-term benefits. The most immediate benefit is bonding with the newborn. The eye contact and skin-to-skin contact you have during a meal creates a lasting bond. Other health benefits of early breastfeeding include:
• Your uterus shrinks rapidly to pre-pregnancy size due to the hormones released during breastfeeding.
• Breastfeeding burns calories, so combined with a healthy diet and adequate activity levels, you can lose pregnancy weight quickly.
• Save time and money because you don’t have to clean bottles, measure formula, and wash bottles.
• Decreased stress due to hormones released during breastfeeding.
Mothers see long-term health benefits from breastfeeding:
• Women who breastfeed have reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and depression.
• They also show that women with gestational diabetes who breastfeed for more than one year in their lifetime have a lower risk of developing type 2 diabetes compared to those who did not breastfeed.
How your baby benefits from breastfeeding
Many of the benefits for your baby come directly from your breast milk. Your breast milk changes according to the baby’s needs, especially in the first month. Breast milk is very important to prevent and reduce infection, especially in infants, with factors that reduce infection and inflammation.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the health benefits of breastfeeding for your baby include:
• Fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal infections, colds and flu. The proteins in breast milk also fight bacteria.
• Healthy growth and development. The proteins and lipids in breast milk help to supplement the growth of babies, especially premature babies.
• Better digestion throughout the child’s life. Breast milk contains beneficial bacteria that benefit the baby’s immune system and metabolism.
• Prevention of various diseases and conditions including asthma, diabetes and childhood obesity.
• While there are no studies showing the safety of the vaccine against Covid-19 in breastfeeding individuals, the potential for adverse events is low.
In addition, there are reasons to suspect that antibodies from the vaccine against Covid-19 are passed to the baby in breast milk. Therefore, breastfeeding and breastfeeding individuals should not be discouraged from taking the vaccine, and there is no reason to stop or prevent breastfeeding after vaccination.
Every child’s breastfeeding journey is different and support is needed not only from health professionals but also from family, friends, employers and the community.
It can be challenging, and time and energy can be an investment to overcome those challenges.
As a new or experienced mom, you may have many questions related to breastfeeding and it’s important to talk to your provider. They can connect you with resources before or after the birth of a child.
In addition, lactation specialists are available to mothers at all UPMC labor and delivery hospitals. These services are provided in person, via telephone consultation or through a virtual appointment.
Natalie McCullen, RN, BSN, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant based at UPMC Magee-Women in North Central Pa. She is certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultants and specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. To schedule an appointment, call 570-321-2092.