Health Benefits of Breastfeeding (for mother and child)

 Jessica Miller
  Jan 01, 2019


Every family, mother and child are unique in their own way be it cultural, traditional or environmental. There are many factors that mothers have to keep in mind and consider when they have to make a choice for their young ones. When it comes to breastfeeding the subject is somewhat controversial and also very personal. The decision to breastfeed or not belongs to the mother, even if sometimes the opinion of friends and family is very different and sometimes too overbearing.

Authorities in U.S. health care, the CDC (Center for disease control), the AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics), and other, support breastfeeding and recommend it as the best option for feeding an infant and even promote breastfeeding as an exclusive form of feeding in the first 6 months of life. The goal in the U.S. at this time is to increase breastfeeding rates for a healthier generation of children, that can resist viruses and diseases, and grow up into healthy productive adults.

The CDC has tried to do so, by offering professional education, access to professional support, peer – support programs and other programs that are there to inform and provide help to new mothers in making those choices that are the best for them and for their child.

Breastfeeding benefits for babies

Breastfeeding or nursing a child has a significant number of positive health benefits that have been long studied in many researches. Besides the fact that breast milk contains all the vitamins and all the nutrients needed by the child in the first months of their life in order to have a healthy balanced nutrition, it also has a substantial impact on the child’s immunity making it the best choice for feeding.

The colostrum, the first milk the mother’s body produces during pregnancy and after birth is full of antibodies and immunoglobulins, having the power to protect the newborns from viruses and bacteria. The breast milk and the secretion of colostrum vary from one mother to another according to their infant, providing for their specific needs and taking into account the pathogenic environment that both mother and child may have been exposed to.

Breastfeeding and childhood cancer

Basically the antibodies in the breast milk fuel the infant’s immune system. Some studies show that by breastfeeding and strengthening the immune system the risk of childhood cancer, especially leukemia could be lowered. A comprehensive study by Kwan (2004) revealed that both long-term breastfeedings, as well as short-term breastfeeding, reduce the risk of leukemia. This positive effect of breast milk may be attributed to the immune stimulatory effects that infants that have been breastfed seem to develop more early than formula fed babies.

Breastfeeding and SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome)

Maybe one of the most significant benefits of breastfeeding is that it has been shown to lower the risk of SIDS (Sudden infant death syndrome). Vennemann et al. (2009) in his study of over 300 cases of children deceased of SIDS showed that breastfeeding reduces the risk by 50% throughout all the stages of infancy. This particular study did not demonstrate a difference in risk reduction between exclusive breastfeeding and partial breastfeeding but most health professionals still recommended exclusive breastfeeding in the first 6 months of the infant’s life.

Breastfeeding, asthma and allergies

Breastfeeding also has a positive impact on the respiratory system, lowering the risk of asthma. Asthma in young children, may be produced by viral respiratory infections, and when it comes to the effect of breastmilk, it’s a well-known fact that breastmilk is a confirmed protector against these viruses. The strongest effect appears in the first 2 years of life given the fact that afterward more and more environmental factors appear in the baby’s life and it is harder to observe the direct influence of breastfeeding. Allergies are another trouble that can be reduced by breastfeeding, by introducing solid food at 4-6 months as well as maintaining a partial breastfeeding diet, the risk for allergies may lower.

Breastfeeding, pediatric obesity and diabetes

The scientific literature up to date seems to point out that breastfeeding would decrease the risk of pediatric obesity and also childhood diabetes. By breastfeeding infants are feeding according to their own internal hunger necessity, having an energy intake appropriate to their needs and having natural self-regulatory clues that point out how much to eat and when to stop in comparison to children that are fed with the bottle and that might be encouraged to consume more than they actually need, until they finish the whole bottle.

As we all know, obesity has a close relationship with insulin concentration, the higher the insulin level, the more the increase in the deposition of fat tissue, which leads to a weight gain and from there obesity, diabetes and cardiovascular troubles are just a step away. Insulin rate is very dependent on the feeding process in the case of babies. The formula has a high protein intake and this might stimulate more insulin secretion. Also infants that are fed formula tend to have a higher plasma insulin concentration. Another factor that could influence child’s weight is the possibility that leptin, a hormone that regulates satiety and gives the feeling of hunger when in lower quantities may be regulated through breastfeeding. There are many more benefits of breastfeeding from protecting the infant from different viruses, bacteria and disease to even producing a better response to childhood vaccinations.

Breastfeeding benefits for mothers

Breastfeeding is great for women’s health. It is a natural stepping stone in the maturation of the female body and by the hormones released it helps the adjustment to the new changes - the presence of the infant and the role of being a mother. The psychological benefits are also high, helping the mother bond with her little one. Breastfeeding has also been found to be giving a state of well-being and a high self-esteem to the mother, that feels empowered by the whole process.

Breastfeeding and weight loss

When it comes to health benefits of breastfeeding, for the mother, one of the most noticeable effects would be that it helps with losing the extra weight. This of course depends on how much extra weight someone has to lose, given the fact that the recommended pressure a mother should put on during pregnancy is around 25-30 pounds, and the weight loss during birth is around 15 pounds depending on the baby’s weight. If a new mother has put on more weight during the pregnancy that recommended, losing that extra weight will be harder.

By breastfeeding a hormone called oxytocin is released which helps return the uterus to its previous size. Also by breastfeeding alone, a mother burns around 300-400 calories a day. One thing to keep in mind is that a gradual loss of body weight is recommended for everyone but especially for new mothers that have to remember that by breastfeeding they are giving valuable nourishment, nutrients and vitamins to their little ones. Furthermore, it is optimum to lose maximum 2 kg in one month, in order to not affect the growth process of the infant. A healthy diet plan and a little exercise are some things always to keep in mind when wanting to lose weight.

Breastfeeding and cancer

Another health benefit is that it may lower the risk of cancer – ovarian cancer and some forms of breast cancer. Research has shown that breastfeeding for 18 months or more contributes to a significant decrease in the risk to develop ovarian cancer, every month of breastfeeding lowering the risk by 2%. Breastfeeding resets the women’s body from changes due to pregnancy and this mediates the ovarian cancer risk. Also breastfeeding reduces the risk of cancer by its effect on ovulation and gonadotropin concentration. When it comes to breast cancer the findings in research are very similar. The longer the period of breastfeeding the lower the risk for breast cancer.

Breastfeeding and osteoporosis

Other significant benefits that are especially useful at an older age is that breastfeeding lowers the risk for osteoporosis and rheumatoid arthritis. Even if nursing a child might deprive the woman’s body of calcium for a period of time these calcium losses are naturally recovered afterward. Women who have breastfed for more than 8 months have been shown to have a higher mineral density in bone mass. Research also showed that by breastfeeding the risk of hip bone fracture is lowered.

All things considered the beneficial effects are so many and impressive both for the mother and the child that every mother should think twice if she is having doubts about using the ancient classical method of baby feeding. Moreover the recommendation to choose to breastfeed against formula is more than supported by numerous evidence that confirms all the positive benefits.

Health Benefits of Breastfeeding (for mother and child)

Jessica Miller

A healthy living enthusiast who loves to write and share with the world the latest tips and tricks regarding general health care, nutrition and yoga.

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