You may have been getting too much advice and a lot of suggestions from people around you since the moment you became pregnant: what to eat, what to wear, when to rest, where to go, etc. But nothing derives as strong opinions as to the decision to breastfeed. But remember, it’s a personal decision only to be taken by you for the sake of your baby’s health.
Doctors all over the globe strongly recommend breastfeeding without the inclusion of any other food or liquid for at least 6 months after the baby is born. And breastfeeding with the inclusion of other nutrition filled diets for at least up to 1-2 years.
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With all these recommendations comes one question: what are the advantages of breastfeeding the newborn? We have highlighted some of the major benefits of breastfeeding for the baby as well as the mother, in this blog.
Some women produce low amounts of milk, while some prefer not to breastfeed. But scientific evidence shows that there are tremendous advantages to breastfeeding.
Breastmilk reduces risk factors for the baby to contact diseases by ensuring he/she is only being fed milk directly from the mother, keeping him away from any other bacteria that he might get in contact with through formula or other supplements. This saves him from many health problems:
Infections and Cold: Flu and throat infections are very common among newborns but the risk can be avoided by up to 60-70% when the baby is breastfed.
Respiratory and Gut Infection: It’s common for newborns to come into contact with these infections and get hospitalized in the process. But breastfeeding helps the baby avoid them by up to at least 72%.
Diabetes: The risk of developing diabetes type 1 and 2 is lowered by up to 30-40% in the first few months of breastfeeding.
Leukemia: Childhood leukemia can be avoided through breastfeeding by up to 15-20%
Ear Infections: Breastfeeding alone for 3 months can reduce the risk by 50% while breastfeeding with the inclusion of other supplements can reduce it by 23%
Intestinal Damage: Necrotizing enterocolitis is a condition in which a portion of the bowel dies in newborns. The condition is rare but dangerous. With breastfeeding, the risk of developing the condition is reduced by 60%.
Allergies: Breastfeeding protects the baby from developing conditions such as asthma and eczema by up to 40% in the first 5 months.
Inflammatory Bowel Syndrome: Breastfeed babies have a 30% lesser chance to develop inflammatory bowel disease during childhood.
Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Refers to the sudden death of a baby below the age of 1; usually occurs during sleep. The risk for this condition is reduced up to 50% in the first month after birth from exclusive breastfeeding and up to 40% in the first 5 months due to the same reason.
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Breastfed babies have a lower risk of becoming obese than formula-fed babies. Hence, breastfeeding promotes proper and healthy weight gain. Each month of breastfeeding is also necessary as each passing stage reduces the risk by 4% while the baby is breastfed throughout. Breastmilk contains leptin which is a necessary hormone to regulate one’s appetite and fat storage.
Babies who are breastfed also have a better chance of developing healthy eating patterns, as they’re not dependant on the amount of formula in a bottle hence they don’t get overfed or underfed; they stop feeding as soon as their hunger is satisfied.
When the mother contacts any bacteria or infection, her body produces antibodies which are then transferred into the breastmilk. From there, they’re passed on to the baby when he/she is fed.
The main source of these antibodies is colostrum i.e. the fluid produced before breast milk is released. The colostrum helps strengthen the immune system, it also provides high levels of IgA (immunoglobulin A), which forms the protective layer in the newborn’s throat, nose, and digestive system.
Formula doesn’t really help in this matter and that’s why babies who aren’t breastfed are more likely to have weaker immune systems.
Breast Milk is the baby’s basic source of acquiring important nutrients in the right amount according to the baby’s needs. In the first few weeks, the colostrum is released which helps develop the baby’s digestive tract among other benefits, which have been discussed above. After that, the breast starts producing a higher amount of milk as the baby’s appetite grows.
The only nutrition that breastmilk doesn’t provide is Vitamin D, for which Vitam D drops are recommended in the first few weeks for the newborn.
Maybe it’s about the bond the mother and baby share during breastfeeding or the high amounts of benefits acquired through breastmilk or maybe it’s a mixture of all these factors, but children that are breastfed as babies have a chance of being smarter than the rest of their mates. Studies show breastfed babies to have higher intelligence scores and lesser chances of developing learning problems as they grow older.
Breastfeeding suppresses ovulation, lowering the lifetime exposure to hormones such as estrogen; this helps avoid the risk of developing ovarian and pre/post-menopausal cancers in a woman.
While breastfeeding, the body’s energy demands increase. And with this increase also come a lot of hormonal changes. This can lead to an increase in appetite and hence weight gain. All of this happens in the first 3 months when breastfeeding. After this, during the 6-7 month period post-delivery, the body may start burning fat. A mother’s body burns 20 calories for each amount of milk produced, hence she may end up burning 600 or even more calories in a single day!
Women who breastfeed are reported to lose weight quickly after the initial months than those that don’t breastfeed. The basic factors to help reduce weight still remain exercise and diet but breastfeeding helps make that process easier.
Breastfeeding mums release high amounts of the hormone oxytocin. This release makes the uterus contract. The process helps the uterus return to its previous pre-pregnancy size.
For bottle-feeding mothers, the process can occur if you place the baby on your tummy such that his little feet are pointed on your belly button. Doctors suggest that the baby’s feet movement can help soothe you and make the uterus contract at the same time.
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Oxytocin doesn’t only help contract the uterus, it also results in feelings of love, warmth, and makes one feel stress-free. Cholecystokinin is another hormone released during breastfeeding that helps bring feelings of well-being and satisfaction in both the mother as well as the baby.
It has also been reported to help mothers who develop postpartum depression. Although seeking psychological help when the condition is developed is a much safer and reliable option than depending upon breastfeeding to cure you.
In order to breastfeed, a mother’s body pauses ovulation and the process of menstruation. Some women even use this as a method of birth control in the first year of delivery. But our recommendation would be to just take this as a time to better tend to the baby’s needs without having to worry about menstruation. As for birth control, it’ll be better if you keep using the more reliable methods.
Although breastfeeding has been reported to make your bones lose mass, reports show that the process strengthens bones and reduces the risk of developing osteoporosis in the long-term. While the spine and hip muscles can become weaker after delivery, the high amount of lactation helps absorb calcium more efficiently, and after the initial 6 months, the body’s muscle mass increases. This can make the hip and spine stronger than they were even before pregnancy.
Breastfeeding is an exclusive process where the milk is produced inside the mother’s body and fed to the baby directly. This means you don’t have to spend a lot of money on buying formula every other month or calculating how much formula you should be making for the baby for it to be sufficient. Nor do you have to spend a huge amount of time cleaning up milk bottles during the middle of the night or early in the morning when you’d rather be sleeping or resting.
There are plenty of women in the world who don’t breastfeed. In fact, there are only 30-40% of women who actually do breastfeed. The reason why most women don’t is that they think it affects their breast size. Although research shows that genetics, age, and lifestyle choices such as smoking and drinking affect the breast-size more than breastfeeding does.
A small number of women don’t have enough lactation supply due to which their milk production is lower than normal. And some women don’t have the time to sit and breastfeed their baby, especially if they’re shy to breastfeed in public. Hence, they choose formula as the primary source of food for the newborn.
Whatever the reason for mothers to not choose to breastfeed, it’s recommended the baby is breastfed unless it poses a threat to his/her health. The more studies will be conducted, the more benefits of breastfeeding will be found. It’s important that you keep both you and your baby’s health benefits in mind as you make the choice for breastfeeding or lack thereof.
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