It’s often said that breast milk is nature’s perfect food, and at Westchester Health, we thoroughly agree. Not only does it greatly benefit a growing newborn, but the act of breastfeeding has a number of very important health benefits for a nursing mom, too.
How moms benefit from breastfeeding
Breastfeeding provides a number of health benefits for mothers beyond emotional satisfaction.
Helps you lose pregnancy weight faster
Breastfeeding actually helps you lose your baby weight! When your infant sucks on your breast, this triggers the release of oxytocin, the “feel-good” hormone that also spurs the shrinking of your uterus and reduces postpartum bleeding. Even though you’ll be adding more calories to your diet to make milk, they won’t translate into extra pounds (unless you eat more calories than you need).
Lowers your risk of several cancers
Breastfeeding reduces your risk of uterine, ovarian and breast cancer, as well as bone loss after menopause.
Reduces your risk of developing many serious diseases
Some studies have found that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
Delays the return of your period
Exclusive breastfeeding delays the return of your menstrual period, which can help extend the time between pregnancies. However, it’s important to note that breastfeeding is not a foolproof method of contraception and should not be used as your sole form of birth control.
Easy and convenient feedings
When you breastfeed, your baby’s milk supply is always ready and waiting, the right temperature and free! You won’t need to purchase formula or a bottle warmer, or be constantly sterilizing baby bottles.
How babies benefit from breastfeeding
- Boosts immunity and prevents illnesses
It’s a proven fact that breastfed babies are less likely to suffer from ear infections, asthma, allergies, childhood cancers, respiratory tract infections, GI illnesses and other common childhood ailments, in large part because their immune system is strengthened by antibodies passed on through their mothers’ milk. Colostrum (the protein-rich, low-fat “pre-milk” produced by your breasts before your real milk comes in) is particularly rich in these antibodies and is very important for your baby in those first few days of life.
- Decreases the likelihood of childhood obesity, now and later on
Babies who are breastfed are less likely to be obese as children.
- Important opportunity for mommy and baby to bond
There are few experiences in life that match the close emotional connection that comes from breastfeeding. No matter how close your child becomes with dad, there’s something wondrously special about skin-on-skin contact with your baby.
- Reduces allergies and skin rashes
Studies have shown that breastfeeding significantly contributes to a decreased incidence of allergies and eczema.
- Creates strong jaws, healthy teeth, fewer braces
Because breastfed babies have to work extra hard for their meals, they build stronger jaws, have better-developed teeth and palates, and experience fewer cavities later in life. They also have better jaw alignment and are less likely to need orthodontic braces as they get older.
- Encourages more adventurous taste buds
Since breast milk takes on the flavor of whatever you’re eating, your baby early on develops an acceptance of a wide range of tastes and flavors.
- Establishes crucial cognitive and emotional development
All those hours of close bodily contact while breastfeeding do more than fill your baby’s tummy. In addition to helping your newborn feel nurtured and safe, that close contact with you builds a strong emotional foundation for self-confidence throughout life.
If you don’t have time to breastfeed, you can pump
The ability to pump milk has revolutionized breastfeeding for the mother whose lifestyle prevents her having from regular nursing sessions with her baby. If you’re new to pumping, here are some helpful tips:
- Many insurance companies cover the cost of breast pumps
- Ideally, you should pump every 2-4 hours when separated from your infant
- It takes the typical first-time mother about 20 minutes to empty her breasts. Pumping time usually decreases with each month of expressing milk.
- After each successive pregnancy, pumping time should decrease
- Breast milk can be stored in bottles or bags
- Breast milk can be refrigerated for 3 days and frozen for 3 months (in a deep freezer, it can be frozen for 6 months).
- Freeze your milk in small containers to avoid waste
- Label the milk with the date
- Hands-free bras are available to allow multi-tasking while pumping
- Cars’ electrical adapters make it possible to pump in a car
- Battery adapters are available for international travel
Additional benefits of breastfeeding
- Breast milk is much less expensive than formula, which costs between $4-10 per day, depending upon the brand, type (powdered versus liquid) and amount.
- At night, attaching your baby to your breast is much simpler and faster than getting up to warm a bottle of formula.
- Breastfeeding allows you to gather your baby and go (for a quick errand or a day-long trip) without having to carry a bag full of feeding equipment.
- Breastfeeding is also good for the environment, since there are no bottles to wash or formula cans/bottles to throw away.
How often to breastfeed
Generally, we recommend that babies be fed on demand, which is whenever they seem hungry. Your baby will tell you when he/she is ready for a meal. Crying, putting fingers in his/her mouth or making sucking noises are common tell-tale cues. Typically, a newborn needs to be fed every 2-3 hours and should nurse about 10-15 minutes at each breast.
Got questions about breastfeeding or need some help? Come see us.
If you’re having a hard time getting your newborn to breastfeed, want assurance that your baby is getting enough milk, or just have questions, please come see us at Westchester Health. We will personally work with you and your baby so that breastfeeding becomes a positive, successful experience for both of you. Whenever, wherever you need us, we’re here for you.
By Navid Mootabar M.D. F.A.C.O.G., Chairman Department Obstetrics & Gynecology, Director at Large, Institute of Robotic & Minimally Invasive Surgery, Northern Westchester Hospital, Mount Kisco, NY, Northwell Health System