As we work to promote and encourage breastfeeding, a lot of emphasis is given to all of the reasons breastfeeding is great for babies. I will make that the topic of a future post, but today I want to focus on why breastfeeding is great for moms.
Breastfeeding is a great way to bond with your baby. The time spent cuddling, or even skin-to-skin is a great way to get to know your baby and spend time together. Breastfeeding gives a baby a sense of security in his mother’s presence, and many mothers enjoy knowing that this is one very special thing they can do for their babies that no one else can. During breastfeeding, many hormones are at at work in a mother’s body, including oxytocin, the so called “love hormone” which gives many mothers a sense of relaxation, well-being and love towards their babies when they breastfeed.
Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce the risk of several types of cancer including breast cancer, ovarian cancer and uterine cancer. This protection seems to have a dose-response effect, meaning the longer you breastfeed, the more protection you get!
Breastfeeding supports mothers’ health in other ways as well. During pregnancy a woman’s metabolism slows down in order to provide nourishment to the baby, without needing to consume thousands of extra calories each day. This slowing of the metabolism can lead to insulin resistance and even gestational diabetes in some mothers. Some breastfeeding advocates say, the conclusion of pregnancy is not the birth, but breastfeeding.
During breastfeeding a woman’s metabolism is reset, and her body needs hundreds of extra calories each day to produce breastmilk. Breastfeeding increases the levels of HDL (the good cholesterol) , decreases triglyceride levels, and improves insulin sensitivity. This enhanced metabolic efficiency seems to persist, even after breastfeeding is finished. Researchers have also found that longer duration of breastfeeding is associated with greater response. In other words, the longer you breastfeed, the more protection you get. They also noted that the response was greatest in women who breastfed for at least a year, suggesting that a woman who breastfed one child for one year would have more protection than a woman who breastfed two babies for six months each.
Breastfeeding has also been shown to lower the risk of cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome by decreasing the level of inflammation in the body as well as improving the cholesterol and triglyceride levels of breastfeeding mothers. Diabetes and cardiovascular disease often go hand in hand, and a woman whose metabolism has had the reboot provided by breastfeeding is at lower risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes and metabolic syndrome.
Contrary to much of the popular wisdom, breastfeeding mothers tend to get as much or more sleep than their formula feeding counterparts. According to recent research, “Breastfeeding mothers reported longer total sleep time, more daily energy, and better physical health than their formula- or mixed-feeding counterparts.”
Breastfeeding also saves a family money. The typical cost of a year’s worth of infant formula is estimated at $1200 to $2400. ($100-200/month x 12 months) According to one study comparing exclusively breastfed and exclusively formula fed babies, additional healthcare costs of between $331 and $475 can be expected in the first year if a baby is formula fed for the first three months of life. If a family were able to purchase breastmilk from a milk bank for a year, the cost would be approximately $27,375, based on a very rough estimate assuming the typical cost of donated breastmilk at $3/oz and a baby receiving approximately 25 ounces per day over the course of a year.
And last but not least, the majority of breastfeeding mothers say that breastfeeding is very convenient in a number of ways. It is always the right temperature, always available, and does not require sterile bottles and other equipment to prepare safely. When you leave the house, you need only make sure you have a few diapers, wipes and a change of clothes for the baby. Bottles and formula don’t need to take up space in your diaper bag or on your to-do list.
It seems obvious that breastmilk is the ideal food for babies, and more and more research is coming out showing why breastfeeding is important for mothers as well. Breastfeeding is not just a great source of nutrition for your baby, it is also a fantastic way to take care of your physical, mental and emotional health as you welcome a new baby into your family!