The importance of breastfeeding
Studies have shown that the health benefits of breastfeeding for both mother and baby are extensive, and include immediate benefits, longer term benefits, as well as psychological benefits and helping to establish a close bond.
Benefits to mum
From the very first feed you are creating a lasting bond with your baby, and giving him a feeling of comfort and security through skin to skin contact. Not only is breastfeeding free, but breastmilk is ready on demand at just the right temperature, without the need to sterilise bottles or carry around a bag of kit when out and about. And then there are the health benefits of breastfeeding for mother, too …
The suckling of your baby at the breast immediately after birth encourages the release of oxytocin (the ‘love hormone’), which sends a signal to your breasts to release milk to your baby. Oxytocin encourages your uterus to contract, to prevent haemorrhaging and begin to return to its pre-pregnancy size. Breastfeeding can delay the return of your period (thus conserving iron in your body), but while you are less likely to conceive during this time, it is not a foolproof method so it is best not to rely on it totally.
Studies have shown that benefits of breastfeeding for mothers include:
- A lower risk of ovarian and uterine cancer
- A lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer
- Increase in bone strength, resulting in fewer fractures and reduced risk of osteoporosis in later life
- A decrease in the risk of Type II diabetes in the long term
Studies also suggest that, due to increased oxytocin levels, breastfeeding mothers show less postnatal anxiety and depression than artificial feeding mothers. As your baby is less likely to suffer from respiratory infections, diarrhoea and gastroenteritis if he is breastfed, you may well pay fewer visits to your GP, and therefore experience less associated stress. Prolactin, the milk producing hormone, is thought to have a calming effect on mum, too.
Another benefit of breastfeeding for mums is that breastfeeding helps mobilise fat stores and burns up to 500 calories a day, to help you lose pregnancy pounds faster. A bottle feeding mum would need to cycle uphill for an hour in order to use up this many calories ! In general, non breastfeeding mothers lose less weight and are not as successful in keeping it off as breastfeeding women.There is a suggestion that a breastfeeding mother’s metabolism changes to regulate blood sugar levels and this, together with more efficient weight loss and good cholesterol levels, may lead to a lower risk of heart problems for women who have breastfed.
Benefits to baby
Your breastmilk is the only food designed specifically for your baby, can not be replicated, and changes as he grows, to suit his needs. What is more, the nutrients in breastmilk are more easily absorbed than formula milk, so you can be certain that he is getting maximum benefit, as well as being protected by the antibodies produced just for him and passed on through your milk. There are both short and long term benefits of breastfeeding for babyfor the recommended time of six months exclusively, and thereafter together with solid foods for as long as you and your baby wish.
Imediate benefits to your baby
Your baby will immediately feel a sense of comfort and security while breastfeeding, so it is important to put your baby to your breast as soon as you are able. Your first milk (colostrum) helps him to produce his first stool to excrete meconium (the substances ingested while in the womb) and lines his stomach and intestines to better defend against bacteria and viruses.
If you have a family history of diabetes or allergies, your baby is less likely to develop these if he is breastfed. In addition, further benefits of breastfeeding baby are that they are less likely to:
- be constipated, as their stools are softer, or to suffer with diarrhoea
- have gas problems or vomit after feeding
- suffer urinary tract infections
- suffer ear infections
- be admitted to hospital with gastroenteritis and respiratory infections
Breastmilk contains vital substances to help the development of your baby’s brain, retina and central nervous system, as well as growth factors and hormones.
Longer term benefits to your baby
Studies have indicated that breastfeeding benefits for baby may include:
less likelihood of chest infections until the age of 7
be less likely to develop eczema and asthma
a lower risk of becoming obese and suffer from high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and tooth decay in later life
be more likely to achieve higher scores in intelligence tests
Breastfeeding and premature babies
Premature babies benefit from breastmilk particularly, as this will build up their strength and protect them from infection. If your baby is unable to feed at the breast, you can express your breastmilk (and colostrum) to be given to your baby via other means. If your baby is too small or poorly to be able to take it immediately, you can freeze your expressed breastmilk it for later use.
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