One of the first decisions a new mum has to make is whether to breastfeed. Breastfeeding exclusively for the first six months is strongly recommended by many medical experts, but breastfeeding rates are still quite low. There are some mums who can’t breastfeed, for several different reasons. While there are others that choose not to for personal reasons.
If you’re as yet undecided, this article will provide information to help you decide.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Your Baby
Breast Milk is the best food you can give your baby. It provides all the nourishment they need and is full of live ingredients such as white blood cells, beneficial bacteria, stem cells and many other bioactive components. All of these are going to help your baby fight infection, contribute to their normal healthy development and prevent disease.
Protects Against Illness
If you breastfeed your baby for their first six months they will be less at risk of suffering from sickness and diarrhoea, colds and flu, gastroenteritis, thrush and chest infections. Babies that are exclusively given breastmilk are also 50% less likely to be victims of cot death or sudden infant death syndrome. That is not to say your breastfed baby is never going to get sick. When they do get poorly, however, there are protective components in your milk that will help your baby to recover much faster.
It has been found that breastfeeding when your baby is feeling sick or upset helps to comfort and soothe them. When babies are being vaccinated, studies indicate that breastfeeding provides relief and reduces crying.
Breastfeeding and Premature Babies
If your baby is premature, your breast milk provides the best protection against many potentially fatal conditions such as chronic lung disease, necrotising enterocolitis and sepsis. It is also likely that you will be able to bring them home from hospital much earlier if they’ve been fed breast milk.
Breastfeeding and Your Baby’s Sleep
Breastfed babies are able to get back to sleep much quicker if they wake for milk during the night. This is because their body produces oxytocin when they’re feeding and this makes them sleepy when they’ve finished feeding.
Your Baby’s Brain Development
A study in the US found that young children who had been exclusively fed breast milk for at least three months had 20% to 30% more white matter in their brains. This is significant because the white matter connects different regions of the brain. It also transmits signals between these different regions. In the UK, a study of 16-year-olds who had been breastfed for at least six months as babies, stood a better chance of getting higher grades in their exams.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mum
So what about mum? Are there any benefits worth revealing? There are actually quite a few.
Helps You Lose Weight
You burn extra calories when breastfeeding, which means it can help you lose weight faster.
Helps Your Uterus to Contract
Your body releases the hormone oxytocin when you breastfeed. This helps your uterus to contract and return to its pre-pregnancy size. It is also thought to reduce any uterine bleeding after you’ve given birth.
Lowers the Risk of Depression
Shortly after childbirth, women are at risk of postpartum depression. It has been found to affect up to 15% of mums. You are less likely to develop postpartum depression if you breastfeed. This could be because hormonal changes occur when you breastfeed and these encourage bonding and maternal caregiving.
Reduces the Risk of Disease
If you breastfeed for more than one year it has been linked to a 28% lower risk of ovarian and breast cancer, as well as reducing the risk of health problems such as heart disease.
Pauses Ovulation and Menstruation
If you breastfeed regularly, it suspends ovulation and menstruation. Perhaps it’s nature’s way of making sure you leave ample time between pregnancies.
Saves Time and Money
Breastfeeding costs nothing at all and very little effort is involved. You don’t have to buy formula or spend time making sure bottles are clean and sterilized. Your breastmilk is always ready to drink and at the right temperature.
Is Breast Pumping a Viable Option?
Pumping your breast milk offers many of the benefits of providing milk directly from the breast. However, there are some additional benefits worth mentioning. If you pump your milk, you can make a schedule that suits you. Get the timing right and you’ll be able to think about going back to work or freeing up more of your time.
Pumping can help to increase supply. If you pump your milk, you can split caregiving duties. Childcare duties can be balanced between parents, allowing the mother to get more needed rest. It’s possible for breast milk to be given and taken on a donation basis. If you can’t produce enough milk of your own, you could supplement your supply with milk from a donor.
If you’re undecided about whether to breastfeed or not, this article should give you some food for thought. It’s not something that suits everyone, but there are far too many benefits to ignore it without careful consideration.