In recent years, (again) breastfeeding has earned the national spotlight as the preferred method of feeding babies. Scientists and doctors alike have realized that their ideas of competing with human milk – using synthetic substitutes or formulas – were not going to be as successful.
Although baby formulas can replicate many of the nutrients found within breast milk, researchers continually find more benefits to breast milk in its natural form that stretch beyond nutrient intake.
Pregnant women need to know the truth about breastfeeding
”Mother’s milk, time-tested for millions of years, is the best nutrient for babies because it is nature’s perfect food.” – Robert S. Mendelsohn, M.D.
Even, the World Health Organization admits that “if every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 800 000 child lives would be saved every year.’ If you ask me, that’s an awesome statement – which validates the value of breastfeeding.
However, many of the benefits people commonly discuss pertain only to the baby. They speak about lower risks of infection, decreased chances of obesity and better bonding. What many proponents of nursing fail to advertise to new mothers are the potential benefits of breastfeeding for the woman.
Given that according to the Centers for Disease Control, less than half of babies are still breastfeeding at all at 6 months and only just over a quarter are breastfeeding at 12 months, these benefits are worth exploring.
How does breastfeeding help improve a mother’s health?
Medical doctor and lactation consultant Alicia Dermer notes that the benefits of breastfeeding begin right after birth. “Immediately after birth, the repeated sucking of the baby releases oxytocin from the mother’s pituitary gland. This hormone not only signals the breasts to release milk to the baby, but simultaneously produces contractions in the uterus. The resulting contractions prevent postpartum hemorrhage and promote uterine involution (the return to a nonpregnant state).”
Mothers who breastfeed will also experience a lifetime decreased risk of various reproductive cancers, including both ovarian and uterine cancers, as well as breast cancer. Breastfeeding baths the mother in a cocktail of hormones, which impacts how the body’s cells grow.
Studies done as early as 1999, in Iceland, found that women who breastfed for any length of time have experienced a reduce risk of breast cancer. More recent studies have indicated that at-risk women can reduce their risk by up to 59 percent by breastfeeding their infants.
Interestingly, the benefits of breastfeeding can also impact a mother in ways ranging from her bones to her mind. Studies have indicated that women who have breastfed have a lower risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease, and the longer a woman breastfeeds, the more she is protected.
Previously, doctors were also concerned about the potential for women developing osteoporosis due to the loss of calcium while lactating. Recently, this has been found to be a false assumption as women experience restored or even stronger bones after weaning, perhaps even reducing their chances of developing osteoporosis.
Our society needs to reconnect with benefits of a natural lifestyle
Educating mothers about how breastfeeding can help both their child and themselves can encourage increased and prolong breastfeeding rates. A study conducted on hospital practices found that the more friendly hospitals were towards breastfeeding, the more initial breastfeeding rates increased, indicating that this is a key area for potential improvement.
Proponents of breastfeeding should also focus on providing help for new mothers, supporting them when they struggle, and helping them find solutions to continue nursing. Breastfeeding tips and advice should always be given with an understanding of the mother’s situation. Pediatricians, midwives and others involved with infants, should be educated about potential complications such as tongue ties and navigating food sensitivities without damage to the nursing relationship.
Breastfeeding can help create a healthier overall population. Not only does it improve the health of the children, it can have a huge impact on the mothers. Helping women understand the full range of benefits and supporting them in their endeavor are the best ways to improve the health of our society.