Expecting and new moms are bombarded with information about all the benefits breastfeeding holds over formula. But this is a very personal decision, one that should be informed by facts and not excessive opinion. Before you make this decision, let’s go through the benefits that breastfeeding can have for both you and your baby.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months and continuing even once solid foods have been introduced, until the baby is at least 1 year or until both mom and baby are ready to stop breastfeeding. The World Health Organization recommends starting as early as one hour after birth for the greatest benefits.
Breastfeeding is not always a possibility and that is OK
Breastfeeding has so many benefits for both mom and baby but it can also be difficult for new moms. It can come with a lot of pressure to produce milk for your baby and may lead to anxiety, perhaps even postpartum depression.
For moms who are struggling with breastfeeding, lactational consultants can be very helpful in addition to making sure you are eating at least 450 to 500 extra calories in balanced meals and snacks. Your OBGYN may also prescribe supplements like gummies or lactational cookies to help with breast milk production.
However, some women are simply not able to produce a lot of breast milk. When that is the case, their OBGYN may grow concerned that the baby’s nutritional needs are not being met and will suggest formula as a supplement. Mother’s can still continue trying to breastfeed while using formula to ensure the baby is getting enough nutrients.
The mental health of a breastfeeding mother is very important. If breastfeeding is causing anxiety and depression for her, that risk is not worth the benefits of breastfeeding. We never want to be putting unrealistic expectations or unnecessary pressure on mothers.
How breastfeeding benefits your baby
Human breast milk has been called “a living fluid” because of its ability to adapt to a baby’s needs. Unlike formula, the nutritional content of breast milk changes from one feeding to the next, ensuring the baby is getting the nutrients he or she needs to grow. Breast milk contains antibodies, vitamins, fat, lactose, and minerals and offers the following benefits for the baby.
Breastfeeding helps the baby with digestion
Babies that are breastfed tend to have lower rates of nausea, vomiting, constipation, colic, gas, and other feeding-related problems. Breast milk has a well-balanced nutritional profile that aids in digestion for newborns.
Breast milk is also easier to digest than formula. Formula contains equal parts whey and casein (two types of protein) while breast milk has a higher level of whey during a baby’s first 6 months. Whey is easier and faster to digest than casein, making it gentler on a newborn’s stomach.
Breastfeeding helps to treat and prevent infection and disease
A mother’s body produces immunoglobulins that the baby is able to get through breast milk. Immunoglobulins, also known as antibodies, are large proteins that the body’s immune system uses to neutralize pathogens like bacteria and viruses. If a baby falls ill, these help to fight the infection as a newborn’s immune system is not fully developed and continues to rely on the mother’s defenses in addition to its own.
The milk has anti-inflammatory capabilities in addition to the antibodies that help to protect the baby both short and long-term. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of obesity, leukemia, ear infections, and type 1 and 2 diabetes. Breastfed babies also have a lower risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), a syndrome that is characterized by a baby’s unexplained and sudden death, usually while sleeping.
How breastfeeding benefits new moms
The benefits of breastfeeding extend far beyond the baby’s health as it can not only help to foster a bond between mother and child but also helps to improve the mother’s health.
Breastfeeding fosters a mother-child bond
Researchers are unsure exactly which factor of breastfeeding creates a mother-child bond, but they have some ideas. They’ve hypothesized the emotional facilitation between mother and child can be attributed to breastfeeding, skin-to-skin contact, or some combination of both. Perhaps it’s the baby’s positioning when nursing which creates an opportunity for eye contact between mother and child. Either way, breastfeeding creates an undeniable bond between mother and child.
Breastfeeding can reduce postpartum bleeding
In the first few days postpartum as the uterus slowly shrinks back to its normal size, new moms may experience some discomfort, cramping, and bleeding. Breastfeeding can help by speeding up the rate at which the uterus shrinks back to its pre-pregnancy size. Nursing causes the brain to release oxytocin, a hormone responsible for uterus contractions and decreased bleeding.
Breastfeeding can help with postpartum weight loss
Breastfeeding can help women hoping to return to their pre-baby body shed the baby weight. It takes about 500 calories a day to breastfeed your baby, as your body is constantly making milk and burning extra calories.
We’re not just talking a few extra pounds. A study of over 2,000 women showed that those who exclusively breastfed for at least the first 3 months were more likely to return to their pre-pregnancy body mass index compared to women who did not breastfeed or partially breastfed.
Breastfeeding reduces the risk of certain diseases
Breastfeeding produces a lot of protective health benefits for the mom. Generally, in breastfeeding, your hormones stay consistent rather than fluctuating throughout the month. That consistency has both short and long-term effects on the body. For example, breastfeeding lowers a woman’s life-long exposure to the hormone estrogen, which is linked to an increased risk of ovarian and breast cancers. Women who breastfeed have lower rates of breast and ovarian cancer, in addition to lower rates of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure.
How long should mothers breastfeed?
In an ideal world, women would exclusively breastfeed for one year. But, we tell our patients that any amount of time is great. If you can make it to one year, that’s great but even if you can do six, or three months, any amount of breastfeeding is incredibly beneficial for mom and baby.
At around four to six months, parents should slowly introduce solid food to the baby. By this age, infants have generally developed the motor skills to swallow food and not spit them out.