It seems that popular wisdom is returning to the benefits of breastfeeding whenever possible – from former IL governor Rod Blagojevich establishing the Right to Breastfeed Act (at least he did something right) to First Lady Michelle Obama urging parents to nurse.
Of course, natural mamas have always known that breast milk is a wonderful form of nourishment for babies, loaded with nutrients and protective antibodies that help them grow and boosts their delicate immune systems and overall health. But every day it seems like researchers discover additional benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and child.
Before we begin – free gift for you
Click here to download my free guide on the 8 Essential Breastfeeding Tools that helped me go the distance 😉
Surprising Benefits of Breastfeeding
Here are ten benefits of breastfeeding, both new discoveries and old, all of which surprised and delighted me.
1. Keeps you pumped up with iron
The benefits of breastfeeding are for mom as much as babies. Amenorrhea or absence of a menstrual period, is normal in all women for the first 4-6 weeks after delivery. However, for women who chose to exclusively breastfeeding, this condition can last at least twice as long as mothers who chose to bottle feed. By not having a period, breastfeeding mothers help to restore their iron supply which takes a significant hit during pregnancy, labor and recovery.
2. Keeps your reproductive organs in good standing
Non-breastfeeding mothers have a higher risk of ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers. This may be due to the repeated ovulatory cycles and exposure to higher levels of estrogen from not breastfeeding. In one study, researchers found that breastfeeding from 6 to 24 months throughout a mother’s reproductive season may reduce the risk of breast cancer by 11 to 25 percent (Lyde 1989; Newcomb 1994). This is incredibly important as breast cancer is the number 2 killer among women in the U.S.
3. Reduces the risk of heart disease, diabetes, obesity & other bad stuff
Lead researchers found that mothers who breastfeed for one year and longer were 9% less likely than others to have cardiovascular disease; 12% less likely to have high blood pressure; 20% less likely to have diabetes; and 19% less likely to have abnormally high levels of fats in the blood.
And these benefits of breastfeeding aren’t for mom alone! Breastfed babies, as adults, are have fewer cardiovascular risk factors as they have lower body mass index (BMI) and higher HDL. levels (or “good” cholesterol). Breastfeeding protects against developing chronic diseases such as: celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, asthma, and childhood cancers.
4. Reduces chances for metal in your children’s mouth
Yes! Breastfed children have improved facial muscle development as a result of suckling at the breast. In contrast, formula-fed babies have worse jaw alignment and are more likely to need orthodontic work as they get older. Additionally, breast milk’s bacteria fighting cells actually help prevent tooth decay.
5. Less chance for your child to wear glasses
Studies comparing breastfed and formula-fed infants show that visual development is more advanced in breastfed babies, particularly in premature infants. Many attributed it to the DHA in breast milk which is one of the prime structural components of the retina of the eye. As the breast milk feeds the eyes, it grows and functions better.
6. Decreased risk of daughter developing breast cancer when older
The benefits of breastfeeding go beyond childhood. Women have a 25% lower risk of developing both pre/postmenopausal breast cancer if they were breast fed as a baby, even if only for a short period of time.
7. Boosts immune system
If you’re like me, you’re wary about exposing your newborn to the host of immunizations for various diseases. But take heart, if you breastfeed your child, he/she will have a stronger immune system and be more resilient to germs, bacteria, viruses, and other exposures.
Additionally, if you do decide to vaccinate, it may give you more peace knowing that breastfeeding increases the positive benefits of vaccination.
8. Helps keep SIDS at bay
A large German study published in 2009 concluded that both partial breastfeeding and exclusive breastfeeding are associated with a reduction in SIDS. In fact, the researchers determined that exclusive breastfeeding at one month of age cut the risk of SIDS in half.
Another research team in New Zealand shows that SIDS was three times higher in babies who were not breastfed. The risk factor for SIDS from not breastfeeding was even higher than from maternal smoking!
9. More chances that your kid will be a foodie
Do you want to have an easier time getting your toddler to try broccoli? Well, then breastfeed. With the subtle changes in the breast milk, such as when you have that garlic chicken, breastfed babies tend to accept a wide variety of foods when they begin solids compared with formula-fed kids that consume the same flavor day after day after day.
10. Gives you a natural mama high
The benefits of breastfeeding keep getting better! As you nurse your baby, your body releases the hormone oxytocin, which produces calmness and even sleepiness.
This may explain why breastfeeding mothers experience less postpartum depression and have fewer incidences of child abuse and domestic violence. Even better, your body releases endorphins during breastfeeding which contribute to your overall well-being and gives you that natural high.
While not all mothers are able to breastfeed, I hope those that can feel motivated by these benefits of breastfeeding to stick with it in those early days as breastfeeding does get easier!
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Here are more breastfeeding resources:
- Freudenheim, J. et al. 1994 “Exposure to breast milk in infancy and the risk of breast cancer”. Epidemiology 5:324-331