When we hear the word breastfeeding, we automatically think the benefits that it will give to our baby. We sometimes forget that breastfeeding has many benefits for moms. This ranges from our physical health, emotional health and how well we bond with our baby. Here, I will go through how exactly it provides benefits for breastfeeding mothers.
What benefits does breastfeeding provide for moms.? Breastfeeding reduces the risk of acquiring the following conditions: 1. Breast cancer 2. Ovarian and Uterine cancers. 3. Osteoporosis 4. Cardiovascular Disease and Type 2 Diabetes 5. Autoimmune Disorders 6. Anemia 7. Postpartum Depression. It also provides these other benefits: A sense of Wellbeing and an Emotional Bond with your Baby, Return to pre-pregnancy body sooner, Act as a Natural Contraceptive and can help with Child Spacing.
I will describe how these conditions affect our body and why exactly breastfeeding can reduce our chance of acquiring them. I will also discuss how it can improve our sense of wellbeing and our relationship with our baby. It’s important to mention that we still need to maintain a healthy lifestyle. Breastfeeding is just one factor that can help us to fend off these conditions. The longer and more frequent the rate of breastfeeding, the greater the protection it provides.
Reduces The Risk of breast cancer
Breast cancer is the second most common malignancy amongst women in the United States after skin cancer. The National Cancer Institute states that 12.4 percent of women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at least once in their lifetime based on 2013- 2015 data. So as a woman and as a mother any way to reduce us becoming part of this statistic is worth looking at.
According to breastcancer.org breastfeeding for longer than 1 year reduces the risk of getting breast cancer. They claim this is due to the fact that making milk limits breast cells’ ability to act abnormally. Most women also tend to care better care of themselves such as eating more nutritious food, giving up smoking and reducing alcohol intake.
The longer a mom breastfeeds during her life the greater the protection against this disease.
On a physiological level, the hormone prolactin is produced when breastfeeding. Prolactin suppresses ovulation which in turn decreases estrogen production. It is known that high levels of estrogen in the body can increase the risk of getting breast cancer.
Reduce Risk Of Ovarian and Uterine Cancers
Breastfeeding is also linked to a reduction in the incidence of women getting ovarian and uterine cancers.
A meta-analysis was carried out in 2013 and concluded that the longer the duration of breastfeeding the reduced risk of acquiring ovarian cancer. Having ever breastfed and increased duration reduced the risk of getting ovarian cancer through their effects on ovulation and gonadotrophin concentrations.
Another meta-analysis was carried out in 2015 which examined the incidence of endometrial cancer with breastfeeding. The results showed that breastfeeding was associated with a statistically significant decreased risk of endometrial cancer, with a notable relationship between the duration of breastfeeding and the risk of endometrial cancer.
One of their explanations for these results described that when the endometrium is constantly stimulated by estrogens, abnormal cell reproduction occurs. This may result in genetic mutations which may eventually cause carcinoma.
However, while breastfeeding pituitary and ovarian hormones are suppressed, and therefore, reducing stimulation of the endometrium by estrogen.
While breastfeeding, one of your baby’s many requirements is the adequate intake of calcium. Your baby’s calcium needs will be taken from your own calcium stores which can mean a reduction in bone mass. Depending on the frequency and duration of breastfeeding this can result in a 3 to 5 percent loss in a mom’s bone mass. Low levels of estrogen also play a part as estrogen is known to have a protective effect on bones.
Try not to worry though as this loss in bone mass is usually recovered within 6 months after the cessation of breastfeeding. To get the required calcium needs for you and your baby make sure to eat the appropriate foods. These include calcium rich foods such as milk, yogurts, cheese, dark green leafy veg, and nuts. Calcium fortified foods such as orange juice and cereals also count. Try to maintain a healthy lifestyle such as regular exercise, giving up smoking and reducing alcohol intake.
Cardiovascular Disease and Diabetes
Cardiovascular disease is a condition that affects a large proportion of the female population. It has been shown that breastfeeding moms have a reduced risk of getting heart disease if they have breastfed.
The Journal of The American Heart Association published a study carried out in 2017 which examined the link between breastfeeding and maternal cardiovascular disease. The results showed that a history of breastfeeding is associated with an approximate 10 percent lower risk of cardiovascular disease in later life. The association was stronger among women who had breastfed for a longer period of time.
Breastfeeding helps moms lose the visceral fat that has accumulated mostly around their waist during pregnancy, particularly during the first 6 months postpartum. Less fat around your abdomen reduces the likelihood of suffering heart disease.
It has been shown that lactating women have more favorable blood lipids, lower fasting, and postprandial blood glucose, as well as greater insulin sensitivity at 4 months postpartum. This also shows that there is also less chance of acquiring type 2 diabetes which has also increased nationwide.
However, despite these results, it’s still important to eat a healthful diet rich in heart-friendly foods. These include wholegrain bread, pasta as well as low sugar and fat options. Try eating a regular diet of fresh fruit and vegetables.
The immune system is vital to keep us healthy and to ward off harmful invading microorganisms. Our bodies own healthy cells ensure we can fight infections from a mild condition such as a cold to more serious conditions like cancer. When we have an autoimmune disorder our body does not recognize our own cells and treats our own healthy cells as harmful where they are attacked. This confusion means that the body begins to attack itself, causing a vast array of symptoms and diseases.
According to Breastfeeding USA, autoimmune diseases are counted in the top ten causes of death for women under 65.
Rheumatoid arthritis is one of these disorders which affects many women in later life. There is evidence to show that breastfeeding has a positive impact on the likelihood of getting rheumatoid arthritis. A study by Pikwer, Bergstrom et al. (2009) concluded that long term breastfeeding was associated with a significant reduction in the risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
Multiple sclerosis is another autoimmune disorder which affects the neurological system. It can become a serious debilitative condition where our normal day to day activities become affected. There are positive correlations between breastfeeding and the chances of developing this disease. A study by the American Academy of Neurology (2017) showed that mothers who breastfeed for a total of at least 15 months over one or more pregnancies may be less likely to develop multiple sclerosis compared with those who don’t breastfeed at all or do so for up to 4 months
Reduces The Chance of Anemia
In addition to blood loss during the birth of your baby, the return of periods in particular heavy menstrual bleeds can increase the risk of iron deficiency anemia. A lot of moms who formula feed their babies have a higher risk of becoming anemic. This is due to their menstrual cycle returning a lot sooner than a breastfeeding mom. Exclusive breastfeeding delays the return of the mothers menstrual period, therefore reducing the chance of becoming anemic.
It’s also sensible to consume a diet high in iron-rich foods especially if there was a large amount of blood loss during the birth of your baby. Iron-rich foods include red meat which is the most easily absorbed. Other sources include dark leafy vegs such as kale, cabbage, spinach as well as legumes such as chickpeas and kidney beans
Several studies have suggested that breastfeeding can help protect women against postpartum depression. The action of oxytocin plays a part as this hormone helps us deal better with stress. The birth and subsequent caring for a new baby can be stressful particularly for new moms. It can also help improve our mood and lessen the chance of depressive symptoms.
Breastfeeding has also been associated with getting more sleep. This is possibly due to the convenience of putting baby straight to the breast for a feed rather than having to make up a bottle of formula.
According to La Leche League, the Journal of Maternal and Child Health (2014) published a study which found that mothers who planned to breastfeed and went on to do so were around 50 percent less likely to become depressed than mothers who had not planned to, and who did not breastfeed. They also mentioned that according to Kendall-Tackett in her book “Depression and New Mothers” breastfeeding is protective of maternal mental health because it reduces the stress response.
However, we also need to be aware that for some women the pressure can become too much when breastfeeding does not work out for whatever reason. It has been shown that for some, postpartum depression occurred because they didn’t meet their expectations to breastfeed as planned during pregnancy. This, as a result, was a factor in causing postpartum depression.
It’s important that mothers should be able to reach out and seek support if they feel they are struggling. Each individual’s situation is different where no judgment should be made on their decisions.
A Sense of Well-being and Emotional Bond With Your Baby
Many moms find they have a very close bond with their baby when they have breastfed. Every time you breastfeed there is a surge of hormones that create feelings of love and nurturing towards your baby. These hormones are called prolactin and oxytocin. They also help take away any feelings of trauma or stress that may have resulted from a difficult birth. The close physical connection from breastfeeding helps create this extra special emotional bond.
According to The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding By La Leche League, without these hormones, mothers tend to talk to their babies less, interact less and touch less.
This close relationship often continues throughout the parent-child relationship for many years and even into adulthood.
Return to Pre Pregnancy Body Sooner
Through the action of oxytocin, a mom can return to her pre-pregnancy soon when breastfeeding. The uterus starts to involute at a faster rate returning back to its previous state. Feeding your baby also burns a lot more calories which helps lose the extra weight that occurred during pregnancy.
Exclusively breastfeeding can be a natural form of contraceptive which can be over 99 percent effective. But only on a few conditions! Mom must be feeding the baby at least every 4 hours during the day and at least 6 hourly at night. She must also not have had a menstrual period and this can only occur within the timeframe of the first 6 months postpartum. This is also known as LAM (Lactational Amenorrhea Method). Contact a member from La Leche League or a lactational consultant who will be able to give you the right guidance on this method.
As described above, exclusively breastfeeding using the LAM method can result in a period of infertility where conceiving would not be possible. This can help a mother control when she would like to have another child. She should be careful after 6 months postpartum as the LAM method is less reliable. She may need to use another form of contraceptive to delay having another child.
This is quite an amazing list of benefits that breastfeeding can provide for moms out there. The message is that the more frequent and the longer you breastfeed, the more you are protected against acquiring these conditions. However, any amount lasting any time will always provide benefits and moms should feel proud of whatever amount of breast milk they have given their baby.