Here at Modern Alternative Pregnancy, we talk a lot about breastfeeding, from how to prepare to breastfeed before you have your first little one, to how different birth practices can affect breastfeeding, to even how to breastfeed while on the go–while babywearing! It’s all for good reason–the breastfeeding benefits are just that important! Many may know that breastfeeding benefits the baby, but in the post, we also want to highlight how breastfeeding also benefits the mom, too!
By Jackie Scrivanich, Contributing Writer
My Breastfeeding Journey
I have been breastfeeding since my first son was born in May of 2013. For over three years we have been at this. I have pumped (or at least I tried), I have used donor milk, I have used a supplemental nursing system, I have nursed through pregnancy, and I have tandem nursed. All to ensure that my children received the best for their development.
When my son was in the NICU, it was a fight to breastfeed. It was not my son that was having an issue, it was the staff. Breastfeeding comes with enough challenges without having people who are supposed to be supporting you making it more difficult and making you question yourself. Thankfully, we got through that and my son still nurses in the morning and at bedtime. My youngest son nurses more than that, but that is to be expected for his age.
From the time I found out that I was pregnant, I knew I wanted to breastfeed. I wanted to provide nourishment for my child that was the best option for them. When I was researching and reading various books while pregnant I started to realize all of the amazing benefits of breastfeeding for my child. Later I started to hear about the benefits of breastfeeding for me as a breastfeeding mother. Breastfeeding actually benefits every person on this earth! By choosing to breastfeed you actually reduce the amount of waste that comes with formula and so there is significantly less garbage in our landfills.
The standard recommendation is that every baby is breastfed exclusively from birth until 6 months of age. At that time food is added but breastfeeding is to continue until at least two years of age. Mothers who are HIV positive are not supposed to breastfeed but there are plenty of women who donate their milk that would allow every baby to receive breastmilk.
The World Health Organization says this:
“Breastfeeding is an unequaled way of providing ideal food for the healthy growth and development of infants; it is also an integral part of the reproductive process with important implications for the health of mothers. As a global public health recommendation, infants should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health. Thereafter, to meet their evolving nutritional requirements, infants should receive nutritionally adequate and safe complementary foods while breastfeeding continues for up to two years of age or beyond. Exclusive breastfeeding from birth is possible except for a few medical conditions, and unrestricted exclusive breastfeeding results in ample milk production.” (Source)
How Breastfeeding Benefits Both Mom and Baby
Benefits to Babies
Breastmilk is alive. It is made up of so many incredible parts. Breastmilk contains proteins, fats, vitamins, minerals, hormones, enzymes, and so much more (Source). Due to its intricate make up, breastmilk has many advantages over cow’s milk or infant formula. “Breast milk is uniquely suited to the human infant’s nutritional needs and is a live substance with unparalleled immunological and anti-inflammatory properties that protect against a host of illnesses and diseases for both mothers and children” (Source).
Some breastfeeding benefits for babies include:
- Breastfeeding is associated with slightly enhanced performance on tests of cognitive development (Source)
- Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 3 months is associated with a lower incidence and severity of diarrhea, otitis media and respiratory infection (Source)
- Exclusive breastfeeding for at least 6 months is associated with a lower incidence of allergic disease in at-risk infants (infants with at least one first-degree relative presenting with allergy) (Source)
- Breastfeeding is associated with a lower incidence of obesity during childhood and adolescence, as well as with a lower incidence of hypertension and hypercholesterolemia in adulthood (Source)
- Compared to formula feeding, breastfeeding decreases the likelihood of common childhood infections, such as diarrhea and ear infections. The risk of acute ear infection is 100 percent higher among exclusively formula-fed infants than in those who are exclusively breastfed during the first six months. (Source)
- The risk associated with some relatively rare but serious infections and diseases, such as severe lower respiratory infections and leukemia are lower in breastfed infants. Also the risk of being hospitalized for a lower respiratory tract infection is 250 percent lower for babies who are exclusively breastfed until 4 months old than for formula fed babies. (Source)
- The risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome) is 56 percent higher among infants who are never breastfed. (Source)
- Breastfed babies have a lower risk of developing major chronic diseases and conditions such as type 2 diabetes, asthma, and childhood obesity (Source)
Benefits to Mothers
Milk is undoubtedly best for baby. We hear the phrase “breast is best” often enough. But is it best for moms? Most of the time the answer is a resounding “yes!”. Breastfeeding mothers have many benefits of breastfeeding.
Some breastfeeding benefits for mothers include:
- Breastfeeding mothers tend to return to prepregnancy weight more quickly (Source)
- Breastfeeding is associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer (Source)
- Breastfeeding is associated with a decreased risk of hip fractures and osteoporosis in the postmenopausal period (Source)
- Breastfeeding mothers have a decreased risk of ovarian cancer; the risk of ovarian cancer was found to be 27 percent higher for women who had never breastfed than for those who had breastfed for some period of time (Source)
- Breastfeeding allows for bonding with the baby in a way that is different from bottle-feeding mothers.
Beyond the clear breastfeeding benefits for babies and mothers, there are many breastfeeding benefits for our entire world!
Breastfeeding helps families to save money! One study shows that for families who followed optimal breastfeeding practices they could save more than $1,500 in the first year alone (Source). Also, due to the baby being healthier, there is less money being spent on seeing doctors and on prescriptions.
As a nation we could save more money if everyone breastfed. Even if just 90% families in the United States “followed guidelines to breastfeed exclusively for six months, the United States would save $13 billion annually from reduced direct medical and indirect costs and the cost of premature death” (Source).
Breastfeeding also helps the earth! Formula has a lot of packaging, even with optimal recycling there will be packaging added to our landfills. “For every one million formula-fed babies, 150 million containers of formula are consumed” (Source). Breastfeeding eliminates the need for formula waste.
Lactating Mothers Everywhere
For the small number of mothers who cannot breastfeed, there are plenty of mothers who have an abundance of milk to share, which can be a way for babies to still experience some of the breastfeeding benefits. We as a society need to get over our misunderstanding when it comes to sharing breastmilk. Wet nursing or donating milk to a baby in need is natural and should be common place. If this were the case, we would have fewer sick babies and less garbage in our world.
When my son was in the NICU, they tried very hard to convince me that I was not making enough milk. I was, but that is another story. To appease them, I snuck in a friend’s breastmilk and added it to my containers of pumped milk. If it was not for her generosity, I do not know how long we would have been in the NICU.
There are lactating mothers everywhere. If you or anyone you know needs milk check out Human Milk 4 Human Babies. Sharing milk should be commonplace and cost effective.
What do you feel is the best benefit of breastfeeding for you and your baby?
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