What Are The Benefits Of Breastfeeding?

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One of the first major decisions that you will make as a new mom is whether or not to breastfeed your baby. For some new mothers this comes naturally, and for others it can be quite challenging. However, there are lot of benefits of breastfeeding. So, even if it’s difficult at first, it’s worth trying to overcome this challenge.

By the way, the fact that breastfeeding is good for your baby isn’t the only reason to do it. Breastfeeding has a positive impact that lasts well beyond infancy and into adulthood. It’s actually quite good for you as a new mom as well.

Breastfeeding Benefits For Baby

While there are a lot of different benefits of breastfeeding, none are more important than the ones your baby will receive.

Boosts Baby’s Immune System

One of the biggest benefits for your baby is that breast milk contains immunity boosting antibodies and health enzymes. This means your baby will have a better chance of avoiding illness, even with an immune system that has not yet fully developed. What’s more, scientists have not yet been able to replicate these antibodies and enzymes in formula. So, for the time being at least, they can only be found in breast milk.

A stronger immune system shows up in a number of different ways. For instance, formula fed infants are much more likely to suffer from ear infections, eczema, and lower respiratory tract infections than breastfed babies.

Breastfeeding has also been shown to make vaccines more effective. This is an indirect health benefit, but an important one nonetheless.

Easier To Digest

The proteins found in breast milk are a lot easier to digest than the ones found in formula that is based on cow’s milk or soy milk. As a result, breastfed babies have a lot less tummy aches, diarrhea and constipation than formula fed babies.

If baby is feeling better, it will mean a lot more smiles and a lot less tears. It may also mean that baby goes to sleep easier. This in turn will make mom and dad a lot happier, and perhaps a bit better rested.

Less Allergic Reactions

Formula has been known to cause allergic reactions in some babies. This is because formula is usually based on cow’s milk or soy milk. Breast milk is much less likely to cause an allergic reaction than formula. And, believe me, it’s no fun dealing with an infant allergy attack.

What’s more, if you continue breastfeeding after your child starts eating solids (typically around 4-6 months old), your child will be less likely to develop allergies to other foods as well.

Reduces Risk Of SIDS

Breastfeeding reduces the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). SIDS is every parent’s worst nightmare. It was something that I worried about constantly as a new mother. So, anything that you can do to reduce the risk will help put your mind at ease.

Bonding With Baby

If the reasons above are not enough, breastfeeding is also a great mother/baby bonding activity. Skin-to-skin contact is important for newborns. It has all kinds of benefits in its own right, and also makes baby feel happy and secure. In addition, there is probably not a more natural way to make time for regular skin-to-skin contact than breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Benefits That Carry Into Childhood, Teenage Years & Adulthood

The advantages of breastfeeding don’t end when you stop. In fact, the breastfeeding that you do when your child is an infant will have benefits that can last a lifetime.

Improved Brain Function

Everyone wants their child to grow up to be smart, right? Well, the fatty acids that are found in breast milk are believed to have a positive impact on brain development. This translates into children that develop more advanced cognitive abilities. In addition, it is even believed to have a positive impact on IQ during adulthood.

Less Likely To Develop Certain Diseases

Breastfeeding protects against diseases such as spinal meningitis, type 1 and type 2 diabetes and lymphoma. This is in part because mom passes white blood cells and immune factors on to baby through breast milk.

Breast feeding has also been associated with lower risk of leukemia, Crohn’s disease, asthma, allergies, and colitis. It has even been linked to lower risks of rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and breast cancer. There are no guarantees in life, but breastfeeding can help stack the deck in your child’s favor from a health perspective.

Better Dental Health

Children that were breastfed have fewer cavities on average than children that were formula fed. Breastfeeding also leads to a lower likelihood of orthodontic problems than formula feeding. Not only will your baby grow up to have better teeth, you will save a small fortune on orthodontic work.

Interestingly, breastfed babies have fewer speech problems than formula fed babies as well.

While some of these things may be surprising, they are in fact backed by science and research.

Lower Likelihood Of Becoming Obese

Babies that are breastfed are less likely to become obese in childhood. In some ways, this makes intuitive sense. When you’re breastfeeding, your body is naturally providing baby with just the right amount of milk. This is because your body reacts to your baby’s signals, and produces enough milk to satisfy baby’s appetite, but not more.

In contrast, when you’re formula feeding, you need to calculate how much you think baby should have. This may end up giving them too much or too little for their particular needs since every baby is different. Also, it’s not uncommon for baby to down an entire bottle of formula really quickly once they get the hang of it. So, they might finish the bottle before they realize they are full.

Breastfeeding Benefits For Mom

While there are clearly a lot of reasons that breastfeeding is good for babies, there are also a lot of perks for moms.

More Convenient

One of the nicest things about breastfeeding is that you are always prepared whenever your baby gets hungry.

Heading into town to go shopping? There is no need to pack up formula or figure out how you’re going to warm it up while you’re out. After hitting a couple of stores, just find a quiet place to take a break, and feed your baby.

If you and your husband are out shopping, and you suddenly decide to go out to dinner as well, there is no need to stop home to get more formula. You have everything you need and can be free and spontaneous (as much as that is possible with an infant).

It’s also really nice not have to pack formula if you ever go on vacation or even a weekend away. It’s just one less thing to worry about and try to remember.

By the way, mixing up formula for that 3am feeding isn’t all that fun either. With breastfeeding, it’s not necessary.

Shed Pregnancy Weight

When I was pregnant, I gained quite a bit of weight. And, I was absolutely dreading the day that I would have to try to take it off.

The funny thing is, it actually wasn’t nearly as hard as I thought it would be. The main reason is that I was breastfeeding.

Believe it or not, breastfeeding can burn 300-500 calories a day! That’s a huge help when you’re trying to lose weight.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that you won’t have to watch what you eat or work out, but it does mean that the wind will be at your back. So, you’re weight loss goals will be that much easier to achieve.

Helps Your Body Recover From Pregnancy

Your body goes through a lot when you’re pregnant, and when you give birth. Breastfeeding can help your body to recover and heal afterward.

When you start breastfeeding, it signals to your uterus that it’s time to shrink back to normal size. It’s not to say that this wouldn’t happen on it’s own anyway. But, if you breastfeed it will probably happen faster. On average, moms that breastfeed will have a normal size uterus six weeks after giving birth, compared to ten weeks for moms that don’t breastfeed.

Natural Form Of Birth Control

When you’re pregnant, you stop ovulating and menstruating. If you breastfeed following pregnancy, the return of ovulation and menstruation will be delayed.

So, breastfeeding acts as a natural form of birth control. Of course, this isn’t 100% guaranteed, but it is pretty effective. Then again, delaying the return of menstruation is a nice benefit itself.

Saves Money

During the first year of a child’s life, parents that don’t breastfeed may spend up to $1700 or more on formula. The cost of breastfeeding? Approximately zero. It’s free.

Believe me, there are plenty of things that you will need to spend money on when you have a baby. Cribs, strollers, baby monitors, changing tables, clothes, diapers…  the list goes on and on. If you can save thousands of dollars on formula, it’s a good thing.

Lowers Likelihood Of Postpartum Depression

Postpartum depression can affect up to 15% of new mothers. As you would imagine, going through this is extremely difficult, since being a new parent is overwhelming under the best of circumstances.

However, there is some good news. Breastfeeding helps reduce the likelihood of postpartum depression. In part, this is because breastfeeding releases hormones like oxytocin and prolactin that reduce stress and produce positive feelings. Once you get the hang of it, it can actually be kind of relaxing and enjoyable as well.

Health Benefits

Breastfeeding lowers your risk for breast and ovarian cancer. It also reduces your risk for type 2 diabetes, anemia, and osteoporosis. When I first read this, I was a bit surprised. It seems the list of breastfeeding advantages just goes on and on.

Bonding With Baby

Bonding is a two way street. Breastfeeding will make baby happier, and will also give you a regular chance to bond and form a closer connection.

Raising kids is a ton of work, particularly in the early days. The more that you bond with your baby, the more rewarding the experience will be. Believe me, it’s nice to have a deep reservoir or love to draw from when you’re waking up for the umpteenth time in the middle of the night for a scheduled feeding or to soothe a crying baby.

mom and baby

Breastfeeding Is Good For The Whole World

Beyond mom and baby, breastfeeding is good for the world at large. Believe it or not, breastfeeding is actually eco-friendly.

Good For The Environment

If you have to buy a lot of formula, it has to be packaged somehow. And, all of that packaging ultimately will be thrown away. Breastfeeding eliminates all of this waste. But that’s not the only way that breastfeeding can be green.

A lot of formula is based on cow’s milk. And, all of the cows that produce this milk have a rather large impact on the environment in the form of the manure and methane that they create. In the long run, all of this extra methane getting into the air is a contributing factor in global warming. Maybe this isn’t the biggest factor in the grand scheme of things, but every little bit makes a difference.

Good For Your Employer

When you’re breastfeeding, your baby is less likely to get sick. So, if you go back to work, you will not have to take as many days off to stay home with your little one. This can help make for a smoother transition as a working parent.

Why Some Women Don’t Breastfeed

There are lots of good reasons to breastfeed, but there are also reasons that some women don’t do it.

Breastfeeding Can Be Difficult And Painful

For some women breastfeeding can be very difficult. While some babies will instinctively go for a nipple right after they’re born, others will need a lot of coaxing.

Some babies just don’t seem to want to latch on, no matter how hard you try to convince them. Some mothers find that it’s much easier to get a baby to drink from a bottle. At the end of the day, babies need nourishment. If they are having a really tough time breastfeeding, then formula feeding is probably the best solution.

Then there is the pain factor. Your nipples may crack and become very sore right from the beginning. This can put extra strain on you, and make it even harder to breastfeed.

That said, even if it’s not painful at first, it very well might be when your baby’s teeth start to come in.

If you do experience challenges with breastfeeding, check our La Leche League. La Leche League is a non-profit organization with a mission to help mothers worldwide with breastfeeding. This is achieved through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education. This organization promotes a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.

Inconvenient For Some People

While I alluded to the convenience and freedom that come from breastfeeding, there is a part of breastfeeding that is not so convenient.

If you go back to work, you will likely have to pump at the office to continue breastfeeding. Not only does this mean that you have to find a good place to pump at the office, it also means lugging a pump, and a bunch of bottles back and forth. Believe me, it’s not always easy to remember to bring in the bottles, ice packs, and everything else that you need to transport your breast milk and keep it cool.

Then there are women that travel a lot for work. While it’s possible to pump when you go on trips, it’s one more thing to add onto your plate and to pack in your suitcase (both of which are probably quite full as it is).

What I like to recommend is happy baby, happy mother.  Happy mother, happy baby. I will never force a mother to breastfeed who does not want to breastfeed. – Dyan Hes, MD. Board Certified in Pediatrics and Obesity Medicine

Even If You Stop, There Are Benefits Breastfeeding In The Beginning

Breastfeeding is recommended for the first year. However, it’s worth pointing out that even if you don’t think you will be able to breastfeed past the first couple of weeks or months, there are still good reasons to do so in the beginning.

It’s also worth pointing out that this is not an all or nothing proposition. There are lots of mothers that feed their babies with a combination of breast milk and formula. They might do breast milk in the morning and evening, and formula during the day for example. If this fits with your lifestyle, it might be the right answer for you since you and your baby will get a lot of the benefits associated with breastfeeding by doing so part of the time.

Colostrum: Liquid Gold

Colostrum is also known as pre-milk, and this is what your body produces in the first few days after giving birth.

Colostrum is called liquid gold because of its deep yellow color. However, it’s loaded with rich nutrients and antibodies as well. It’s also higher in protein and lower in sugar than full breast milk.

Your body will only produce a small amount of colostrum because that is all that a newborn can handle. Even though it’s a small amount, it does wonderful things for your newborn. For instance, it helps your baby’s digestive system to develop and function.

Just What Your Baby Needs

Breast milk changes over time based on your baby’s needs. A baby’s saliva is actually able to signal to mom exactly what the baby needs in terms of nutrients. Mom’s body responds to this signal by customizing the breast milk to meet the baby’s changing needs over time.

Nature is truly marvelous. And, it can be good to take advantage of this as much as possible in the early days.

Final Thoughts

There are lots of benefits of breastfeeding. So, even if you find it challenging, it can be worth making an extra effort to try to make it work.

Of course, it won’t be possible for everyone and it’s certainly not the end of the world if you give your baby formula. While this article has been focused on all of the benefits of breastfeeding, there are some advantages that formula has to offer as well. After all, people spend billions and billions of dollars on formula each year. And, there are plenty of smart, happy, successful adults out there that were nourished with formula as infants. They turned out just fine too.

Cristin is a co-founder of Smart Parent Advice, and the loving mother of two wonderful children. In her free time, she can often be found in a yoga studio or catching up on her favorite shows.