Breast milk, as we all know, is the best and most nutritious food for your little one. It is advised to exclusively breastfeed your baby for the first 6 months so that they get maximum benefits from the milk. However, apart from nutrition, breastfeeding also imparts a range of benefits to both – the mother and the child. Here are some of the lesser-known merits of breastfeeding:
For the baby:
1. Strengthens the mother-baby bond
When you hold your baby in your arms for feeding, the skin to skin contact will help comfort your baby and strengthen the emotional bond. This emotional connect is just as important as the nutritional advantage they get from you which will only grow in the years to come.
2. Boosts your baby’s immune system
Mommies, your milk not only has all the protein, water and fat to keep your baby healthy but also contains antibodies, white blood cells and immune factors that benefit their immune system. The chances of ear infections, respiratory illnesses, asthma, allergies, and bouts of diarrhea are also low in breastfed babies. This immunity is not only limited during breastfeeding but also after weaning.
3. Reduces risk of obesity
Breastfeeding helps in gaining the right amount of weight, hence decreasing the incidence of childhood obesity. This in turn reduces the risk of developing insulin resistance and diabetes in late childhood /early adulthood.
4. Reduces risk of iron deficiency anemia & calcium deficiency
Exclusively breastfed babies are at a lower risk of developing iron deficiency anemia, and calcium deficiency.
5. Decreased chances of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
SIDS is defined as the sudden, unexplained death of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as crib death because the infants often die in their cribs, usually during sleep. Although the causes for SIDS are not really known, it has been observed that breastfeeding protects against SIDS and this effect is stronger when breastfeeding is exclusive.
6. Breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores
Breastfeeding is positively associated with improved performance in intelligence tests in later childhood. While a lot of studies show that prolonged and exclusive breastfeeding improves children’s cognitive development in the later stages, it still needs a strong backing by research.
Short term benefits:
- Decreased incidence of secondary postpartum hemorrhage as it helps the uterus to revert to its normal pre-pregnancy size (clinically referred to as involution of uterus).
- Breastfeeding also helps lose the extra weight gained during pregnancy, hence preventing obesity at early stage
- Exclusive breast feeding is also associated with a temporary stoppage of periods for 3-9 months (known as lactation amenorrhea); this helps in restoring of the blood lost during labor.
- Since ovulation is halted under the effect of hormones that maintain lactation (oxytocin and prolactin), breastfeeding acts as a natural method of contraception. The rate of prevention of pregnancy is around 95-98% in first 4-6 months if, exclusively breastfeeding.
- Lactation hormones (mainly oxytocin) which are secreted during the breastfeeding period, gives a physical sense of well-being thereby reducing the severity and frequency of postpartum blues – however, strong backing by research for the same is still pending.
Long term health benefits:
- Breastfeeding is also associated with a decreased risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer. It also reduces the chances of an early onset of diabetes, hypertension & hyperlipidemia (a condition in which your blood has too many lipids). All of these in turn minimizes the risk of cardiac diseases and stroke.
While breastfeeding can seem simple, some new moms may need some help and coaching. Depending on the questions you may have, it’s always better to reach out to your gynecologist or your pediatrician or a lactation consultant who can help you safely navigate through any bump along the way.