The miracle of birth comes with a multitude of new experiences, emotions, and decisions–one of which is breastfeeding your baby.
But did you know both the World Health Organization and the American Academy of Pediatrics recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months–as well as regular breastfeeding for a year or longer?
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby!
How Breastfeeding Benefits Mom
Carrying another living thing inside of you for 9 months–not to mention delivery–can take a toll on both the body and mind. By starting breastfeeding right away, moms recover more quickly. That means breastfeeding mothers typically return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly than those who don’t breastfeed. Building and maintaining a milk supply actually burns about 500 extra calories a day!
It also means moms who breastfeed have less vaginal bleeding, lower rates of breast and ovarian cancer, urinary tract infections, anemia, osteoporosis, and diabetes, and is associated with helping the uterus return to its normal size. Breastfeeding is also commonly associated with a decreased risk of developing postpartum depression–and moms who breastfeed often report a more positive mood.
That’s because breastfeeding produces oxytocin and prolactin–naturally occurring hormones that promote stress reduction and positive feelings. Breastfeeding also facilitates more skin-on-skin contact between mother and baby, forging a stronger physical and emotional bond. Establishing and nurturing that bond at an early age can help reduce behavioral and social problems for children later in life.
Not to mention, the national shortage of baby formula highlights an even bigger benefit of breastfeeding. For most women, breastmilk is both easily accessible, completely healthy to the baby, and best of all, free! Plus, unlike formula, breast milk is always available at the right temperature whenever (and wherever) your baby needs it!
How Breastfeeding Benefits Baby
Breastfeeding isn’t just hugely beneficial for mothers. It’s great for babies too; breast milk is the recommended exclusive source of nutrition for babies in the first six months of life. That’s because breastmilk has been shown to help develop and nurture a baby’s immune system. Breastfed babies have fewer infections, inflammation, and illnesses–and breastfeeding even helps protect against diabetes, asthma, and obesity as they age.
Because breast milk contains nutritional components from mom–including antioxidants, enzymes, live antibodies, and immune properties, mothers literally pass along life-saving protection by way of breastfeeding. As such, breastfeeding is associated with decreased rates of infant mortality and SIDS.
But breastfeeding doesn’t just help newborn babies. Children who were breastfed as babies have fewer instances of childhood cancers, decreased incidence of speech and orthodontic problems, fewer cavities, improved brain maturation, decreased risk of developing Crohn’s disease and colitis, and even a litany of benefits for adults later in life.
How Long Should You Breastfeed?
While most experts agree on breastfeeding for at least the first six months of a baby’s life, how long should you breastfeed your child?
In spite of the benefits for both mom and baby, some babies (around 9-12 months) may start to resist nursing. This is completely normal! It’s up to each individual mother and child to decide when the time is right to wean (stop breastfeeding).
Once you stop breastfeeding, you’ll notice some changes in your body, including changes in breast size and density. If your breasts continue to feel exceedingly full or swollen, use a pump or your hand to release a small amount of milk.
Breastfeeding is also directly correlated to fertility. While breastfeeding, your chances of getting pregnant are exceedingly low (although it’s not a guaranteed way to prevent pregnancy). Once you skip nursing sessions or stop breastfeeding altogether, your chances of getting pregnant go way up.
Can all women breastfeed?
-It’s very rare for mothers to be physically unable to breastfeed–and most women are able to both produce breastmilk and nurse, regardless of breast size, shape, and density. However, women with HIV and women who are on certain medications are advised against breastfeeding.
What if I have problems breastfeeding?
-Problems with breastfeeding are extremely normal. In fact, most women encounter a learning curve when it comes to starting breastfeeding–especially first-time mothers. If you encounter any issues, ask for help right away! We’re proud to offer a number of resources for mothers, including lactation consulting, educational literature, and so much more!
How often should I breastfeed?
-For the first month, newborns should be breastfed anywhere from 8-12 times daily. Newborns should never go more than 4 hours without feeding–even overnight. As your baby ages, he or she may feed fewer times per day. As newborns get older, they’ll have a more predictable feeding schedule.
How long does nursing take?
-Most newborns nurse for up to 20 minutes on one or both breasts. As babies develop more skills and experience with latching and nursing, feeding may take less time (~5-10 minutes). If you’re worried about latching or lack of feeding, don’t hesitate to call your doctor!
Does it matter which breast I use/should I alternate breasts?
We recommend giving each breast equal nursing time. This helps to prevent engorgement and keeps the milk supply up in each breast. Feel free to switch breasts during feeding or between feedings.
Can I breastfeed someone else’s child or donate excess breast milk?
Wet nursing (or cross nursing) is the term for breastfeeding someone else’s child, and in most cases, it’s safe, effective, and healthy for both mother and child (as long as proper infection precautions are observed). Furthermore, wet nurses should be healthy, well-nourished, and abstain from medications and smoking.
If you find yourself with an excess supply or your baby is no longer nursing, there are a number of ways you can donate your breast milk to have a major, life-saving impact! Follow this link for more information and to find a milk bank near you!