Google “BREASTFEEDING BENEFITS”, read a book on breastfeeding, or attend talks on breastfeeding and you will be bombarded with information on why breastfeeding rocks for both mom and the child. I am not here to collate all the benefits for you (that would probably be good for one whole book!), but on this blogpost, let me share my personal favorite benefits of breastfeeding! These are the reasons why I keep going!
1. IT’S ALIVE AND CUSTOM-MADE TO MEET YOUR BABY’S NEEDS.
“Tailored to the needs of human infants, breast milk contains at least 100 ingredients that are not found in cow’s milk and that can’t be synthesized in the laboratory. Moreover, unlike formula, the composition of breastmilk changes constantly to meet a baby’s ever-changing needs: It is different in the morning than it is in the late afternoon, different in the beginning of a feeding than at the end; different the first month than the seventh; different for a premature baby than for a term baby. The nutrients in breast milk are matched to an infant’s needs and his or her ability to handle them. For example, breast milk contains less sodium than formula, making it easier for a baby’s kidneys to handle.” (information from the book What To Expect The First Year by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel)
The best part for me, is if you direct feed, the moment your baby’s saliva/ skin touches your breast, signals are sent for you to create antibodies your baby needs at the moment. A mother’s breasts absorb bacteria from the baby’s skin which is then transported into the mother’s own system where she makes antibodies specific to fighting that bacteria. So if there are viruses around where you are and you breastfeed, your body will make something your baby needs to up his/her immunity. This is why breastfed babies often have strong immunity (they’re the last to get sick, most especially when they’re directly breastfed)! Your body also responds to virus and bacteria in your body (like when you’re sick), and it secretes substances that create protection for your baby! So don’t worry, you can nurse even when you’re sick (to be sure though, consult your pedia).
Watch THIS VIDEO just to see how one drop of breastmilk looks like from a microscope. It’s alive and amazing!
2. IT MAKES BABIES (AND MOMMIES) SMARTER.
“Breastmilk is the nutritional equivalent of a magic bullet for a developing baby. It has important salts and even more important vitamins. Breastfed babies in America score on average 8 points higher than bottle-fed kids when given cognitive tests, an effect still observable nearly a decade after the breastfeeding has stopped. Breastmilk has ingredients a baby’s brain needs to grow post-natally but can’t grow on its own very well. One of these is taurine, an amino-acid essential for neural development. Breastmilk also contains omega-3 fatty acids, which is important for pediatic cognition. The brain needs Omega-3 Fatty Acids for its neurons to function properly.” (information from the book Brain Rules For The Baby by John Medina)
“We know that a human baby’s brain is not yet fully developed at birth, and that it continues to grow and make important connections between the cells of the brain for about three years after birth. Once that process is completed, brain cells may die but no new ones can be added. Breastmilk, because it is designed for human babies, contains all the nutrients a baby’s brain needs to reach its maximum potential.” (information from the book Guide to Breastfeeding by Dr. Jack Newman
And for the moms…
“By ‘smart’ I’m not talking about Hawkingesc quantum physics – nope – the smarts of a breastfeeding mother mean much more than that. I’m talking about the kinds of smarts that translate into enhanced perception, efficiency, resiliency, motivation and social skills. Breastfeeding is nature’s academic plan for mothers. Harvard psychiatrist Dr John Ratey explains: “When a mother gives birth, you want her to be really smart, as smart as she can be. You want her to know about the territory around her and remember things about her kids, and be in a prime state to function”. When Dr Ratey examined the brains of mothers in late pregnancy, he found that their normal rate of cell replacement had slowed down and brain size had shrank – an event which may explain the oh-so-dopey ‘mommy brain’ fog of the third trimester. However, once mom has given birth and breastfeeding begins, cell replacement resumes and increases. Compared to those not breastfeeding, Dr Ratey found that lactating moms had more glial cells, which support the neurons by importing energy and exporting waste products. Let me give you an example of these cells in action: breastfeeding mothers are more sensitive to the sounds of their own babies, and more skilled in interpreting what they mean. A breastfeeding mom’s pricked-up ears makes her more perceptive and aware – in a word, smarter – about her child. This perceptional ability becomes part of her general feeling of extraordinary attachment to this new being. Strong attachment itself can help make her smarter about the rest of the world, in part by keeping her brain elevated. Then there’s the sensory aspect: a mother’s skin as she nurses her baby, is her most direct and loving means of communication, just as her suckling baby talks back with lips and hands, egging her on, before he knows a single word.” (information from THIS ARTICLE)
3. IT PROMOTES BETTER HEALTH FOR BOTH MOM AND BABY.
“For infants, breastfeeding has short-term and long-term health benefits. In the short-term, breastfeeding reduces the risk of gastroenteritis, necrotizing enterocolitis, ear infections, pain following minor procedures, hospital readmissions, respiratory infections, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), and urinary tract infections. In the long-term, breastfeeding reduces the risk of asthma, atopic dermatitis, cardiovascular disease, celiac disease, diabetes, childhood inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, and sleep disordered breathing. Further, breastfeeding is associated with increased cognition and neurodevelopment.” (AWHONN, in press).
“Breastfeeding is also beneficial to the mother’s health. Postpartum benefits include decreased blood loss, lower risk of postpartum infection and anemia, and greater weight loss. Breastfeeding also has been associated with reduced risk of maternal disease later in life including breast cancer, diabetes (type II), hypertension, cardiovascular disease, metabolic syndrome, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and rheumatoid arthritis.” (AWHONN, in press).
4. IT RELEASES OXYTOCIN, THE ONE THING YOU NEED FROM PREGNANCY TO POST-BIRTH.
Google Oxytocin (a hormone and neurotransmitter), and you’ll find its importance from starting your contractions for birth to stimulating milk production, starting uterine contractions, and helping the body store lost nutrients post-birth! This love hormone does wonders for both mom and baby!
“In humans, we have oxytocin receptors snuggled within our breast tissue. As Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, Kerstin Uvnas-Mobery, the global authority on oxytocin, found in a series of experiments, breastfeeding women tend to be less reactive to stress hormones, less physically tense, less suspicious, and less bored. They are also calmer and more sociable when tested for these traits than mothers of comparable ages who are not breastfeeding. Oxytocin is Mother Nature’s weapon against stress, an innate mechanism that mammal mothers enjoy so that stress doesn’t interfere – and least not too much – with mental function. As Stanford biologist Robert Sapolsky, an international expert in stress (would you want his job?) has remarked: “Somehow mammals have worked this out, because cognition is a good thing to have when you have small dependents” Breastfeeding mothers respond to stress less with the banal ‘fight-or-flight’ model (commonly seen in men) and more with an alternative one that has been named ‘tend-and-befriend’ – with friendliness rather than anger. This ‘female model of the stress response’ is again, thanks to lactation’s triggering of oxytocin. Throughout most of human history, women have had to watch out not just for themselves but for the sprogs they most likely had in tow. Their bodies knew they had little people to care for purely because of the signals produced through sustained lactation. A consequence of this biology is that each gender has evolved differently in the matter of psychological responses to stress. Formula feeding mothers respond to stress like men, in a more ‘fight or flight’ manner, due to their low exposure to oxytocin relative to lactating mothers. This in part explains why breastfeeding mothers are significantly less likely to abuse their babies.” (information from THIS ARTICLE)
image from THIS ARTICLE
And for the moms…
“The National Institutes of Health reviewed more than 9,000 study abstracts and concluded that women who didn’t breastfeed or who stopped breastfeeding early on had a higher risk of postpartum depression. Many women report feeling relaxed while breastfeeding. That’s because nursing triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. Numerous studies in animals and humans have found that oxytocin promotes nurturing and relaxation. (Oxytocin released while nursing also helps your uterus contract after birth, resulting in less postpartum bleeding.).” (information from THIS ARTICLE).
5. YOUR ENTEROMAMMARY PATHWAY IS ACTIVATED, SO YOU SHARE YOUR IMMUNE SYSTEM WITH YOUR BABY.
“There is a miraculous added benefit that can only take place when baby puts mouth to breast: activation of the Enteromammary Pathway. The Enteromammary Pathway essentially allows the mother/baby pair to share an immune system. In “Immune System in Human Milk and the Developing Infant,” Dr. Armond Goldman explains the relationship between the Enteromammary Pathway and delayed maturity of the newborn infant’s own immune system: “Further analysis suggested that such developmental delays allowed considerable energy and nutrients to be diverted to the growth and development of other systems such as the central nervous system, skeleton, and skeletal muscles as long as the mother was providing the necessary defense agents through her milk.”
This means that the Enteromammary Pathway allows a newborn to prioritize growth, focusing on areas that absolutely must be developed in order to survive. Because of limited space in utero, these areas of highly specific growth must happen after birth; continued skeletal and neurological growth cannot be accomplished while in the womb and so they must continue at an accelerated rate outside the womb.
Thus, the mother, by way of her natural feeding system, is designed to support her newborn baby during these phases of accelerated growth by sharing her immune system through her breast milk.”
(information from THIS ARTICLE)
6. BREASTFEEDING LESSENS THE CHANCE OF MANY BABY-RELATED CHALLENGES AND ISSUES.
Baby Isn’t Making You Sleep?
“At three months, nocturnal sleep is actually increased in breastfed babies compared to formula fed babies due to tryptophan in breast milk which acts as a regulator.”(Cubero et al 2005) May I also add? Breastmilk releases hormones that make you feel relaxed (and sleepy), giving both mom and baby plenty of time to sleep.
Baby Is A Picky Eater?
“Babies who are breastfed exclusively for their first six months of life may be less likely to become picky eaters as preschoolers, simply because breastmilk gives infants opportunities to sample the flavors of all the foods consumed by their mothers, broadening children’s palates so they appreciate a wider variety of flavors when they’re weaned and eating on their own.” (from THIS ARTICLE) May I just add? Formula tends to have a lot of sugar, making it sweet, so when babies are given regular food, they somehow taste bland to them, which is another reason they reject it.
Baby Is Often Constipated/ Has Diarrhea/ Very Colicky Or Often Spits Up Excessively?
“Breastmilk is designed for a human baby’s sensitive and still-developing digestive system, rather than a young calf’s. Its protein and its fat are more easily handled by the baby than are the protein and fat in cow’s milk. Because of the easier digestibility of breastmilk, infants who nurse are almost never constipated, and less likely to suffer from gas and excessive spitting up. In fact, breastmilk appears to reduce the risk of digestive upset both by destroying harmful microorganisms and by encouraging the growth of beneficial ones.” (from the book What To Expect The First Year by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel)
Baby Is Sickly?
I have mentioned the health benefits above! May I just add, breastfeeding also improves the immune response to immunizations for most diseases (such as tetanus, diphtheria, and polio).
Baby Is Overweight?
“Breastfed infants are often less chubby than their bottle-fed peers. That is, in part, because breastfeeding puts baby’s appetite in charge of consumption. A breastfed baby is likely to stop when satiated, while a bottle-fed infant may be urged to continue suckling until the bottle’s emptied. In addition, breastmilk is calorie-controlled. The hindmilk (the milk baby gets at the end of a nursing session) is higher in calories than the milk at the beginning and tends to make the baby full – a signal to stop sucking. (from the book What To Expect The First Year by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel)
Baby Has Oral Issues?
“Mother’s nipples and baby’s mouth are a perfect match. Even the most scientifically designed artificial nipple fails to give a baby’s jaws, gums, teeth, and palate the workout he or she would get from mother’s breast – a workout that ensures optimum oral development and some perks for baby’s future teeth. Babies who are breastfed are less likely to get cavities later on in childhood.” (from the book What To Expect The First Year by Heidi Murkoff and Sharon Mazel) May I also add that because directly breastfed babies get to exercise their mouths, ensured optimum oral development means breastfed babies usually have developed speech (speech clarity is often laudable), but of course, this needs to be supplemented by actually talking to your baby so s/he can develop his/her vocabulary.
7. BREASTFEEDING IS CONVENIENT AND COSTS WAY LESS THAN FORMULA.
This is of course, another favorite of mine! With direct breastfeeding, I don’t have to bring a lot of things when I go out, and I don’t have to worry about the safety of my milk – it’s always the right mixture at the right temperature. Even with cupfeeding or bottle feeding, I wouldn’t have to worry about dirty water mixing with powdered milk, which can really pose dangers for my baby. Also, although it does have costs (for me, direct breastfeeding means spending on nursing bras and nursing wear + taking probiotics to avoid thrush), it’s still way cheaper than if I put my baby on formula.
Please note that I am not against formula. There are times when it could really be of help (although I have learned that there are other options other than formula. If you are having trouble with breastmilk, there are other things you can try first – such as going to milk banks, looking for cross-nursing buddies, etc), but I am sharing with you the wonders of breastfeeding if you’re still unsure if you want to try it or not, or if you’re wondering if you should go back to breastfeeding or not. I am sharing the wonders of nature, because really, no company can beat hundreds and hundreds of years of operation and evolution.
To end, I’d like to share a few more valuable information from The Alpha Parent’s blogpost:
- These first two weeks are crucial for breastfeeding. Frequent and effective feeding during this time primes milk-making cells, laying the foundation for optimum milk production. In many cases where breastfeeding goes wrong, the problem can be traced to this very early period (Rapley and Murkett 2012).
- New research suggests that gut microbiota is not – as previously thought – stable from the moment a child is a year old. Rather, important changes continue to occur right up to the age of three. This probably means that there is a ‘window’ during these early years, in which intestinal bacteria are more susceptible to external factors. Even more reason to continue providing invaluable antibodies via your breastmilk! (University of Denmark and the University of Copenhagen 2014).
- Some of the immune factors in your breastmilk will increase in concentration during this second year (Goldman. A et al).
- Your milk is still providing your child with essential proteins, nutrients antibodies and other protective substances and will continue to do so for as long as you continue nursing. Human biology is geared to a weaning age of between 2 1/2 and 7 years (Dettwyler. K). “It takes between two and six years for a child’s immune system to fully mature. Human milk continues to complement and boost the immune system for as long as it is offered” (La Leche League).
RECOMMENDED SOURCES FOR BREASTFEEDING BENEFITS ONLINE READS: