It’s Breastfeeding Awareness Month! Naturally, you’ll see a lot of campaigns and events going around in support of promoting breast milk and breastfeeding, and for wonderful reasons.
Health experts and mothers around the world agree: breast milk is still and will always be the best food for babies, especially in the first year of their lives. No matter what the labels say and how it’s “fortified” with vitamins and minerals, formula milk is no match and can never replace mother’s milk.
This Breastfeeding Awareness Month, let’s promote and strengthen the advocacy for feeding infants with food that provides optimal nutrition—breast milk. Below are the benefits breastfeeding brings to both babies and mommies.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Infants
Breastfeeding is arguably the best source of nourishment for infants. It’s also one of the most effective ways to safeguard your child beyond their infant years.
1. The ideal nutrition for infants – Exclusive breastfeeding, which is recommended by health professionals for at least the first six months of an infant’s life, will give the baby all the important nutrients he needs.
Right after birth, the mammary gland manufactures [JAG1] colostrum. It’s a thick and yellowish fluid that is low in sugar but loaded with protein and beneficial compounds that boost [JAG2] the immune system. This is the ideal first milk for newborns since it helps develop their immature digestive tract. Eventually, the breasts will start producing more milk in conjunction with the baby’s stomach growth.
Dr. Bruce German, UC Davis professor and researcher, says breast milk is the framework for what humans need to survive, grow, and flourish in harsh conditions.
2. Organic as organic can be – Breast milk is all-organic. It does not contain artificial agents or chemicals that can have a negative effect on infants. Many families prefer going natural when it comes to raising their newborn child. As breast milk and breastfeeding advocates say, “breast is best.”
3. It’s always sterile and clean – Breastfeeding requires little effort and equipment, which makes it more sanitary than formula milk. You don’t even need to worry about warming up bottles to feed your baby.
Formula milk can be easily mixed with contaminated water during preparation. Additionally, health problems like infections can occur when the bottles aren’t sterilized properly.
4. Lifelong protection and cellular immunity – Nursing mothers pass immune factors and white blood cells through breastfeeding, helping boost the infant’s immune system. This protects the baby against diseases, like type 1 diabetes, spinal meningitis, and Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Additionally, breast milk carries antibodies that protect breastfed babies from catching childhood illnesses like colds, pneumonia, and viruses.
5. Enhances brain development – Breastfed babies and formula-fed babies may have differences in brain development. Research shows that breastfed infants are less prone to develop learning and behavioral issues as they grow older. They also have higher intelligence scores in school than formula-fed children. The bottom line, it’s crystal clear that breastfeeding brings positive effects on brain development.
Additionally, when babies are breastfed, the flavors in their mom’s diet carry through her breast milk. These flavors awaken the baby’s taste buds and train them about what to expect from solid foods. This also encourages them to consume a wide range of healthy foods later on.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mothers
Breastfeeding benefits are not all-exclusive for the babies. It brings many healthy and life-long advantages for nursing mothers as well.
6. Helps mothers lose birthing weight – Losing postpartum weight is hard enough, and the time it takes varies from mom to mom. However, nursing mothers highlight [JAG3] that breastfeeding significantly helped in returning to their pre-pregnancy figure faster.
Breastfeeding mothers burn around 500 calories daily. It’s nature’s way of helping new mothers lose baby weight.
7. Helps the uterus contract – During the pregnancy stage, the uterus expands from the size of a pear to covering almost the whole abdomen. However, after childbirth, the uterus gradually goes back to its average size.
Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for helping you deliver the baby during labor, increases during lactation. This promotes uterine contractions and decreases bleeding as a way to help with faster involution of the uterus.
8. Lowers the risk of depression – Postpartum depression affects roughly 15% of mothers. Women who breastfeed their babies are less likely to develop postpartum depression as opposed to those who pull out from breastfeeding early or do not breastfeed at all.
Breastfeeding causes hormonal changes. Since the feeding process allows the mother and the infant to stay physically close and look at each other eye-to-eye, it stimulates maternal caregiving and bonding. Additionally, the increase in oxytocin (the “love hormone”) decreases anxiety levels and promotes bonding.
9. Acts as natural contraception – Breastfeeding benefits mothers as it serves as a natural (yet not foolproof) birth control method, providing 98% of protection for the first six months after childbirth. Nursing delays the return of your regular menstrual cycle so that it can work as natural contraception. This is also known as the lactational amenorrhea method (LAM). Once your baby stops breastfeeding, this becomes less effective as a birth control measure.
10. Reduces your risk for diseases – Babies aren’t the only ones protected in the breastfeeding process. As it turns out, lactation reduces the risk of type 2 diabetes as well as breast and ovarian cancer. Studies found that every 12 months of breastfeeding correlates with a 4.3% drop in breast cancer risk.
Moreover, research also indicates that breastfeeding reduces the risks for metabolic syndrome, a group of conditions that make mothers prone to heart disease and other health conditions.
Breastfeeding is Human Nature
Breast milk is nature’s ideal and perfect super-food. It provides the complete form of nutrition for babies and a roster of incredible health benefits for nursing mothers.
Breastfeeding has been around for millions of years. It is the foundation of human life. Mother’s milk will continue to trump formula milk. Help your community promote breastfeeding and support nursing mothers!