What are the Benefits of Breastfeeding?

Erin J. Hill

The benefits of breastfeeding, for both mother and baby, are numerous. Primary benefits include enhanced immunities in the infant, a better chance of weight loss for the mother, and a closer and more bonded relationship between a new mother and her child. Although infant formulas are sufficient for feeding and maintaining health in a newborn, a mother's natural milk has many elements that current formula manufacturers can't duplicate. This may be what makes breast milk easier for a baby to digest.

Breastfeeding has numerous benefits.
Breastfeeding has numerous benefits.

One of the first and most important benefits of breastfeeding that an infant receives is an enhanced immune system. Babies are born with very few natural immunities, thereby making them more susceptible to illnesses and infections. A mother's early milk supply is made up of a substance called colostrum. This yellowish liquid is full of antibodies which help protect newborns against anything the mother's body has developed an immunity to. After a few days, a more mature milk will be produced and continue to nourish the infant's body and immune system with fats, vitamins, and antibodies.

Breastfeeding promotes bonding between mother and child.
Breastfeeding promotes bonding between mother and child.

Breastfed babies have also been shown to have a lowered risk for developing certain allergies, such as food and milk allergies, and they are generally less likely to become overweight later in life. Early and continued breastfeeding has also been shown to help a baby bond with its mother more quickly, due to the skin on skin contact. This effect can also be achieved by formula feeding mothers through snuggling the infant close during feedings.

Research has also suggested that breastfeeding may also help lower the risk for sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). This condition strikes roughly 50 in every 100,000 babies born each year. There is no known cause or treatment, as it generally affects children that were presumed healthy. The benefits of breastfeeding for the prevention of SIDS are not well known, but it has been shown that infants who are breastfed have a lower incidence of the condition than those who are exclusively formula fed.

The benefits of breastfeeding are not limited to nursing babies. Mothers also enjoy a host of beneficial side effects to breastfeeding. For example, a breastfeeding mother generally burns 500 extra calories per day in order to produce milk for her child. This results in faster weight loss for many women. Studies have also shown that breastfeeding directly after birth can help prevent hemorrhaging by causing mild uterine contractions to help expel the afterbirth.

Breastfeeding may also help maintain a woman's reproductive health by reducing the risk of developing ovarian and uterine cancers. The reason for this has not been pinpointed yet, although it is thought to come as a result of fewer ovulation cycles. Most women who breastfeed exclusively do not resume a menstrual cycle until they begin to wean. This means fewer total ovulation cycles and less work for the ovaries.

Non health-related benefits of breastfeeding for the mother include not having to boil and wash bottles, having a constant food supply on hand at all times, and dincrease in bonding with her child. In fact, science has proven that during milk production and letdown, a woman's body releases several hormones including one called prolactin. This is the same hormone that is released during orgasm, and it promotes a feeling of closeness and relaxation. When breastfeeding, these euphoric emotions are naturally passed on to the child, resulting in a closer bond during the early days of motherhood when many women find themselves tired and overwhelmed.

Experts recommend alternating the breasts during feedings throughout the day.
Experts recommend alternating the breasts during feedings throughout the day.

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