The Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides the optimal nutrition for your baby and helps to promote a synchronicity between mother and baby. Breastmilk plays an important role if the development of babies’ immune systems, gut health and emotional development. In addition, breastmilk is free to produce and women should be supported by society and in the workplace to be able to provide their baby with breastmilk if they so wish.
- Breastmilk is a live culture providing babies with optimal nutrition.
Breastmilk contains antibodies and immune factors that help babies’ immune systems to fight diseases.
Breastfeeding provides emotional and health benefits to mothers too.
Physical and medical benefits of breastfeeding and breastmilk
Babies are born with a very immature immune system and consequently are not very good at fighting infections for themselves until their system matures some months later. With this in mind, health organisations such as the Department of Health, UNICEF Baby Friendly and WHO recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months (with the WHO recommend extended breastfeeding beyond 2 years), as breast milk can provide antibodies such as IgA to help protect the lungs, throat and intestines whilst the immune system is building stronger. Then at around six months, solid food is introduced alongside breastfeeding.
- Breastfed babies are much less likely to get gastroenteritis, (gastroenteritis is the number one reason that babies are hospitalised in the first year of life).
- Breastfed babies are less likely to get chest infections and ear infections and urinary tract infections.
- Young children who have been breastfed are less likely to have asthma.
- Breastfeeding is a protective factor against obesity, type 1 and 2 diabetes, childhood leukaemia, sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), and necrotizing enterocolitis (a disease that particularly affects premature babies).
- Breastfeeding protects against allergies and auto-immune problems and breastfed babies are less likely to have eczema or coeliac disease.
- If you or your partner have a strong family history of allergies, then it’s considered important that those babies should be exclusively breastfed (if possible) so they just have breast milk for their first 6 months and then solid food is introduced alongside breastfeeding.
Emotional benefits of breastfeeding
- Breast milk is not just a food and breastfeeding isn’t just about getting food into a baby. It provides baby with a sense of security as he receives all his feeds from one care giver ~ baby’s mother.
- Mothers often report that breastfeeding helped them to develop a lovely closeness between mother and baby with the hormones produced during breastfeeding helping mums to tune into their baby. Breastfeeding hormones may also be one of the reasons that mums who breastfeed are less likely to suffer from postnatal depression.
- However, if you choose to formula feed there are lots of ways you replicate some of the closeness by doing so responsively to share an intimate and lovely time during a feed.
The very first milk you produce is called colostrum. Midwives often call it ‘liquid gold’ since it’s so good for your baby when they’re newly born. It contains everything your baby needs in terms of nutrition and is packed full of protective factors which help baby adjust to life outside your womb.
How breastfeeding helps with bonding
Breastfeeding is a lovely way to bond or attach, with your baby. The hormones, including one called oxytocin ~ that mums produce when they are breastfeeding, help create a close loving relationship. When you hold your baby close (skin contact is particularly lovely) these hormones are released in both you and baby and it is this that helps you feel . Skin to skin contact also regulates your baby’s heartrate and breathing and helps produce feelings of calm in you both. Even if you decide not to breastfeed, holding your baby in skin to skin contact will benefit you both and you can offer the first bottle feed at this time.
More Breastfeeding Benefits
- It costs less than formula feeding. You may want to buy a couple of nursing bras but otherwise, there is no need for bottles, or equipment, or formula.
- No bottles to sterilize and nothing to pack when you go out for a weekend or trip.
- Night-time feeds are much easier
- Being able to feed your baby easily and quickly is particularly beneficial at night time and helps make night time feeding less disruptive to your sleep. You don’t have to get up to make up a fresh bottle of formula. In addition, breastfeeding mothers produce lots of oxytocin which helps them get back to sleep faster.
How does breastfeeding benefit mothers?
Breastfeeding benefits both mother and baby as women who have breastfed are at a lower risk of:
- Breast cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Hip fractures and osteoporosis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Postnatal depression
What should I eat when I am breastfeeding?
Breastfeeding burns an extra 500 calories a day. You don’t need to eat lots more than usual (though some mums feel very hungry and their appetite increases) but you should make sure that you look after yourself and eat a balanced diet. Breastfeeding requires lots of fluids, and you will feel thirsty when you breastfeed so have water on hand when you are feeding, as the thirst can be quite overwhelming!