Breastfeeding is often thought of as a gift between mother and baby. Not only does it provide bonding time, but the health benefits for both baby and mother are undeniable.
Breastfeeding gives your baby all the nutrients and disease protection needed for normal growth and disease protection throughout life.
August is National Breastfeeding Month, a month dedicated to educating women and families about the importance of breastfeeding. You might think that breastfeeding comes naturally, but it can take more practice than many people realize.
While it can be challenging, the benefits of breastfeeding outweigh the evidence and they don’t stop after a few months.
In fact, studies show that if you continue to breastfeed past your baby’s second birthday, you and your baby can reap even more rewards.
How the mother benefits from breastfeeding
Breastfeeding mothers receive both short-term and long-term benefits. The most immediate benefit is bonding with your newborn. The eye contact and skin-to-skin contact you experience during feeding time can create a lasting bond. Other health benefits you experience early on in breastfeeding include:
• Your uterus will shrink to its pre-pregnancy size more quickly because of the hormones you release while breastfeeding.
• Breastfeeding burns calories, so combined with a healthy diet and appropriate level of activity, you can lose pregnancy weight faster.
• Time and money are saved because you don’t clean bottles, measure formula and warm bottles.
• Less stress due to hormones released during breastfeeding.
Mothers also see long-term health benefits from breastfeeding:
• Women who breastfeed have lower rates of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis and depression.
• Studies also show that women with gestational diabetes who breastfeed for more than one year during their lifetime have a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those who do not breastfeed.
How your baby benefits from breastfeeding
Many of the benefits for your baby come directly from breast milk. Your breast milk will even change according to your baby’s needs, especially in the first month. Breast milk, with its infection- and inflammation-reducing factors, is especially important for preventing and reducing infections in infants.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the health benefits your baby will experience from breastfeeding include:
• Fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal illnesses, colds and flu. Proteins found in breast milk also fight bacteria.
• Healthy growth and development. The proteins and fats in breast milk help meet the growth needs of babies, especially premature babies.
• Better digestion throughout the baby’s life. Breast milk contains beneficial bacteria that benefit the baby’s immune system and metabolism.
• Protection against a range of diseases and conditions, including asthma, diabetes and childhood obesity.
• While there have been no studies documenting the safety of vaccinating breastfeeding or lactating individuals against COVID-19, there is a low probability of adverse events.
Furthermore, there is reason to suspect that antibodies created by the vaccine against COVID-19 will pass to the baby in breast milk. Therefore, breastfeeding individuals and those who are breastfeeding should not be discouraged from receiving the vaccine, and once vaccinated there is no reason to stop or stop breastfeeding.
Each child’s breastfeeding journey is different and support is needed not only from health professionals, but also from family, friends, employers and the community.
It can be challenging and time and energy can be an investment to meet these challenges.
As a new or experienced mom, you may have many questions about breastfeeding, and it’s important to talk to your provider. They can connect you with resources before or after the baby is born.
Additionally, lactation experts are available to mothers at all UPMC labor and delivery hospitals. These services are provided in person, by phone consultation or through a virtual meeting.
Natalie McCullen, RN, BSN, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant with The Birthplace at UPMC Magee-Womens in north central Pa. She is certified by the International Board of Examiners of Lactation Consultants and specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. To schedule an appointment, call 570-321-2092.