Breastfeeding Benefits Beyond Just Keeping Baby Fed
| 3 min read
Around the world, there is probably not a more universal image of the closeness between a mother and her infant than breastfeeding. Nursing is a mother’s ability to provide the food for a baby at every stage of their early life, from growing their tiny body to helping develop their brain and nervous system. But there are also many benefits to breastfeeding beyond just keeping infants fed. These include mental, physical and long-term health benefits for the mother and child.
In the United States, only one in four babies are still being breastfed exclusively by the time they are 6 months old, which is the recommended baseline for early nursing benefits, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies have found that most mothers want to nurse their children longer, but stop early because of work pressure, lack of support or other obstacles. The CDC is among the agencies currently pushing to make breastfeeding children through their first year – as a supplemental nutrition source after babies begin eating soft solid foods – a more common practice. Health experts say breastfeeding is not just a maternal lifestyle choice, but an investment in the health of the mother and baby.
Benefits for infants
Babies who are breastfed are at lower risk for:
- Type 1 diabetes
- Respiratory disease
- Ear infections
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome
- Diarrhea and vomiting caused by gastrointestinal infections
The positive effects of breastfeeding don’t stop when babyhood ends, research shows. As older children and teens, they can expect these benefits:
- Fewer cavities
- Lower risk of diabetes
- Fewer childhood cancers like leukemia
- Lower chance of being overweight
- Fewer orthodontic problems
- Better immunity in the face of infection
Benefits for mothers
There are also lots of benefits in store for the mothers. Women who breastfeed their babies have a lower risk of:
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Ovarian cancer
- Breast cancer
Breastfeeding mothers also burn about 500 extra calories each day just by building and maintaining their milk supply. They also experience less postpartum bleeding and fewer urinary tract infections. Their chances of developing postpartum depression are lower, too.
Promotes emotional health
Breastfeeding not only fosters a strong emotional bond between mother and baby, but this closeness provides a metal health boost for women as they nurse their children, according to the Cleveland Clinic. This is partly a hormonal reaction. When women nurse their babies, their bodies produce hormones like prolactin and oxytocin. These are known to be stress-reducers and increase a mother’s positive feelings. Other emotional benefits include:
- Breastfeeding increases the emotional, affectionate bonding between mother and baby.
- Breastfed babies are calmer and cry less.
- Women who nurse their children have more self-esteem about how they can care for them.
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