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 babies grow, boosts their delicate immune systems, and improves overall health. But every day it seems like researchers discover additional benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and child. Read on to learn all about it!
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby
1. Provides ideal nutrition
First and foremost, breast milk provides the best nutrition for infants and growing babies. Everything that makes up breast milk gives your baby exactly what they need to grow and get stronger, from the fats and carbs to the antibodies and hormones.
Plus, with breastfeeding you don’t have to worry about buying the right kind of formula or mixing it correctly. The components of breast milk change as your baby grows, from protein-rich colostrum to prebiotic-rich mature milk, your breast milk is always giving their body what it needs to thrive.
2. Promotes bonding
When your baby is at your breast, you’re bonding through skin-to-skin contact. And studies show that one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding is that it builds trust and love. As a result, these same studies suggest breastfed babies are less likely to internalize problems when older and are less likely to suffer from depression.
3. Boosts immune function
When mama is exposed to germs, her body develops antibodies to fight them off. Guess what? Studies prove that when you breastfeed, those antibodies are passed onto baby, building their immune system without directly exposing them to nasty germs.
4. Reduces frequency of ear infections
Similarly, a breastfed baby is likely to have fewer ear infections than a formula-fed baby. According to one study, just one month of breastfeeding reduced the risk of ear infections by as much as four percent and six months of breastfeeding reduced the risk of ear infections by 17 percent.
“While it is not completely clear why ear infections may be related to bottle feeding, it could be because bottles can create a negative pressure during feeding. This negative pressure is then transferred from the bottle to the middle ear of the infant during feedings, which may precipitate ear infections.” — study author Sarah Keim, PhD
5. Helps reduce SIDS risk
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS, is a terrifying prospect to new parents, but in addition to creating a safe sleep environment, breastfeeding also reduces the risk of SIDS.
In fact, studies suggest breastfeeding your baby for just the first two months of their life can halve the risk of SIDS death! Scientists aren’t 100 percent sure why, but they theorize that it could be due to the fact that breastfed babies don’t sleep as deeply as formula-fed babies.
6. Reduces frequency and severity of colds
Colostrum, the highly concentrated milk expressed at the beginning of baby’s life, contains an extremely large amount of antibodies that helps build baby’s immune system from the get-go, but studies suggest breastfeeding for up to six months further decreases colds and other respiratory infections.
7. Decreases allergies
According to research, one of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it reduces the risk of food allergies in babies. Because of these studies, many allergists now recommend that mothers should eat eggs, peanuts, gluten, dairy, and other highly allergenic foods while pregnancy and breastfeeding.
8. Lowers asthma risk
Another one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding for at least six months? Studies say it can reduce baby’s risk of developing asthma-related symptoms, including wheezing, shortness of breath, dry cough, and persistent phlegm, in early childhood.
What’s more? The same study found evidence that the first asthma-related symptoms occur earlier in life in children breastfed for shorter lengths of time or not exclusively.
9. Reduces symptoms of Celiac Disease
According to studies, breastfeeding can’t prevent Celiac’s altogether, but breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months can delay the onset of celiac symptoms by an average of 15 months and significantly reduce the severity of symptoms.
10. Lowers chance of developing Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
Those who suffer from IBS have issues with gas, diarrhea, bloating, and cramping. But studies suggest breastfeeding can help prevent your child from dealing with these uncomfortable and embarrassing issues. The results show that breastfed babies are 26 percent less likely to develop a bowel disease, such as IBS, Crohn’s, and Ulcerative Colitis.
11. Cuts obesity risk
Studies suggest breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity in childhood. Researchers believe this may be because breastfeed babies learn to recognize when they’re full and can better self-regulate their caloric intake. Also, the hormones in breast milk that affect food intake regulation and energy balance could impact body fat composition.
12. Promotes better vision
Those moments at your breast with baby looking up at you do more than bond the two of you; they also help your baby’s eyesight develop. Baby’s vision develops over time, but when they’re breastfeeding and focusing on your face it strengthens their vision. Even more fascinating? These benefits of breastfeeding are lasting—in one study, 10- to 12-year-olds who were breastfed were 42 percent less likely to develop nearsightedness than their peers who were not breastfed.
13. Increases IQ
There’s evidence that breastfed babies score higher on IQ tests in the beginning of life than non-breastfed babies. In one study, elementary-aged children who were breastfed scored up to 7.5 points higher on IQ tests. In another study, adults who were breastfed scored higher on verbal, performance, and comprehension tests. What’s more? Study authors say, because of this, breastfed individuals tend to earn 20 percent more than the average income level.
14. Lowers risk of certain cancers, particularly leukemia
There is also evidence that one of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it reduces a child’s risk of developing cancer, particularly leukemia. In the study, children who were breastfed for 10 months versus four to six months had lower rates of cancer.
15. Improves dental health
According to a recent study, breastfed babies are less likely to develop any kind of misalignment (open bite, crossbite, and overbite, for example) in their teeth later in life.
Though researchers aren’t sure why, individuals who were exclusively breastfed for three to six months are 33 percent less likely to have an overbite compared to those who weren’t. The risk of overbite was 44 percent lower when babies were breastfed for six months of more.
Similarly, children who were exclusively breastfed for three to six months were 41 percent less likely to have moderate to severe misalignment and babies who were breastfed for six months were 72 percent less likely to have misalignment.
16. Expands culinary horizons
If you eat a varied diet while breastfeeding, there’s evidence that baby is less likely to become a picky eater later in life. In fact, kids who were breastfed exclusively for the first six months were 81 percent less likely to reject food during preschool years, 78 percent less likely to develop a preference for specific food-preparation methods, and 75 percent less likely to be fearful of trying new foods.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mom
That’s quite a list of benefits of breastfeeding for baby, right? Don’t feel left out, mama, because there are benefits of breastfeeding for you, too!
1. Helps the uterus contract after birth
When you breastfeed, your body releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin. This hormone is often called the “cuddle hormone,” because it helps promotes bonding, but it also helps your uterus contract. And all that contracting helps stop after-birth bleeding, heal your uterus, and shrink it back down to its pre-pregnancy size.
2. Reduces pain associated with c-section
Moms who breastfed for up to two months after a c-section delivery are three times less likely to experience pain than moms who don’t breastfeed, according to a study done by the European Society of Anaethesiology. What’s more? Only eight percent of moms who breastfed for longer than four months still reported chronic pain as a result of the surgery.
3. Reduces the risk of postpartum depression
Research suggests that moms who breastfeed for up to four months are less likely to experience postpartum depression, thanks to all the endorphins that are released when you nurse. In particular, studies suggest breastfeeding prevents the sharp drop in prolactin after delivery—something that scientists believe contributes to postpartum depression.
3. Helps shed pregnancy weight
An unexpected benefit of breastfeeding? According to Jan Riordan, author of Breastfeeding and Human Lactation, moms who exclusively breastfeed their babies need an average of 400-500 more calories per day. Your body is working overtime to produce all that milk for baby, and this may help some mothers lose excess pregnancy weight more quickly. For other moms, their bodies need to hang on to the extra fat reserves to produce milk—these women may not see the same drop until baby begins to eat solids around six months.
4. Reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancers
Research suggests that one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding for mama is that it reduces your risk of developing breast cancer later in life. According to the data, a woman’s risk of developing breast cancer reduces by 7 percent for each baby she has and a further 4.3 percent for every 12 months she breastfeeds.
5. Promotes heart health
Breastfeeding also has a positive impact on your heart’s health. Moms who breastfeed are at lower risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. Researchers aren’t entirely sure if this is due to the oxytocin your body releases while breastfeeding or because breastfeeding moms tend to live a healthier lifestyle.
6. Reduces the risk of diabetes
Breastfeeding also lowers your chance of getting diabetes (even if you had gestational diabetes) by helping to control insulin and lower blood sugar levels. According to the research, breastfeeding for longer than five months cuts your risk by more than half.
7. Reduces the risk of multiple sclerosis (MS)
A study performed on two groups of women, one with MS and one without, discovered a correlation between breastfeeding and MS diagnosis. Women who breastfed one or more child for a total of 15 months or more were less likely to develop MS. Researchers say more research is needed to determine whether breastfeeding is directly responsible for reducing the risk of developing the disease.
8. Helps you live longer
Because breastfeeding improves mama’s overall health in so many ways, one study suggests that one of the biggest benefits of breastfeeding is that it could actually help you live longer. According to the researchers, one maternal or child death is prevented for every 597 women who exclusively breastfeed for at least six months.
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Need Breastfeeding Help?
I’m truly astounded by all of the benefits of breastfeeding and Mother Nature’s generosity, but breastfeeding isn’t always easy. If you’re struggling, check out this great resource:
Breastfeeding Gets Easier (So Stick With It!) Cheat Sheet