While there are many reasons a mom may refrain from breastfeeding her baby, the saying “chest is best,” is usually true when it comes to a baby’s health. Breast milk truly is nature’s perfect food for nourishing a baby’s growing body and brain. However, there are many (at least 15) benefits that are specific to a mother as well when she chooses to breastfeed.
Examples of health benefits to baby from breastfeeding include reduced risks for sudden infant death syndrome, improved immunity for baby, and less likelihood that a baby will have diabetes and certain cancer types later in life. According to the March of Dimes, an estimated 80 percent of women breastfeed their babies for at least some period of time. About half of these women will continue to breastfeed beyond six months.
Research regarding benefits to mom for breastfeeding often support that greatest health benefits to mom and baby when breastfeeding continues for at least 12 months. Although there can be many challenges to continued breastfeeding in the form of work and school commitments on the part of a mom, many health reasons exist that will boost a mom’s health immediately, in the months after giving birth, and even many years later after she has undergone menopause.
From reduced risk for certain cancers to losing baby weight more easily, the following are 15 of the greatest health benefits to a new mom from breastfeeding.
15 Mom Will Have Fewer Sick Days
When mom breastfeeds her baby, she passes along important immunoglobulins that can serve as a baby’s immune system boosters for the first few months of life. The immune support she gives to her baby from an early time means that breastfed babies are often less sick at a young age and continue to experience fewer illnesses later on in life.
However, enhancing a baby’s immunity also enhances a mom’s immunity as well because her baby is less likely to become ill from bacteria and viruses. As a result, her baby is less likely to make mom sick as well. The result is an overall fewer sick days. This can also save mom time and money that she does not have to take off work or school.
14 Saves Mom Money
To put it mildly, formula is expensive. Through breastfeeding, mom has a portable, near-instant method for feeding baby. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, formula can cost between $4 and $10 per day for baby depending upon the brand, amount baby eats, and the type of formula purchased.
The average cost of formula for a baby for a year is $1,733.75, according to The Simple Dollar. While a new mom does need to eat about 400 to 500 calories more a day to support the creation of sufficient amounts of breast milk, the cost is usually less than that for formula.
In addition to the money-saving benefit, a mom doesn’t have to warm up or prepare a bottle of formula when it is time for baby to eat. Instead, mom has a constant source of milk on her body for whenever her baby is ready to feed.
13 Encourages A Bond Between Mother And Baby
Physical contact between mom and baby helps to encourage the release of the hormone oxytocin. This important hormone is one that is involved with not only promoting breast milk production, but also with releasing feel-good chemicals from the body. Oxytocin can relieve stress and help a woman feel a sense of euphoria when she feeds and nourishes her baby.
It’s also an important hormone in preventing postpartum hemorrhage (see above for more of its benefits). Breastfeeding and the subsequent oxytocin release helps to build a strong bond between mom and her baby. This promotes an attachment that can last a lifetime between a mother and child.
12 Reduces Postpartum Bleeding
When mom breastfeeds, the brain triggers the release of oxytocin. This hormone can be a life-saving one because it triggers contractions that cause the uterus to return to its previous size, reducing the risks for bleeding after delivery.
As a matter of fact, doctors prescribe synthetic oxytocin (known as Pitocin), to be delivered intravenously after the baby is born to support uterine contractions that help the uterus return back to its normal size. Breastfeeding is a natural way to encourage the body to release this important hormone.
In addition to inducing contractions, oxytocin also increases the amount of prostaglandins in the body. Prostaglandins are another compound in the body that encourages contractions in the body. Because uterine atony, a condition where the uterus doesn’t return to its normal size, is a contributing factor to postpartum hemorrhage, early breastfeeding can be a vital piece of the puzzle to protecting mom after delivery.
11 Reduces Risk For Breast Cancer
Breastfeeding can be very protective of a mother’s breast health, including reducing her risk for breast cancer. The greatest benefits to mom are when a mother breastfeeds for longer than a year, according to BreastCancer.org. However, breastfeeding for any amount of time can still offer breast health benefits.
There are several reasons breastfeeding improves a woman’s breast health. First, breastfeeding usually results in the cessation of a woman’s menstrual period. Fewer menstrual cycles reduces the overall levels of estrogen in the body. Reduced estrogen can decrease a woman’s risk for breast cancer.
Second, breast cells whose task is predominantly making breast milk are less likely to multiply or mutate into cancerous cells. Third, breastfeeding women typically follow a healthier lifestyle. This includes skipping out on smoking and unhealthy foods. A healthy lifestyle can reduce a woman’s overall risk for breast cancer.
10 Means No Periods For A While
Breastfeeding causes the body to release many hormones, one of which is prolactin. This hormone is one that reduces the body’s release of estrogen and progesterone. As a result, a woman will not have her period while she is breastfeeding around-the-clock. The bonus is, no PMS while a woman is breastfeeding and no periods to contend with.
For a woman who’s also carried a baby for nine months, a new mom can enjoy a period-free life for 15 months or more from her pregnancy to the breastfeeding period.
When a woman stops breastfeeding, the prolactin levels in her body will drop. As a result, menstruation will return. Some moms may see their “monthly visitor” return after about six to eight months even if they are still breastfeeding because prolactin levels tend to naturally drop over time after giving birth.
9 It’s A Natural Form Of Contraception
When a mom breastfeeds, she usually does not menstruate. This can be a natural, no-contraception needed way to prevent pregnancy while she is exclusively breastfeeding. Of course, there are many stipulations as to how a woman should be feeding her baby to ensure that she is truly not menstruating.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, this includes that the baby must be breastfeeding day and night and the baby is six months old or less. At this time, baby is usually exclusively breastfeeding, which helps to cease menstruation.
If moms do choose to take an additional form of contraception during their baby’s first six months of life, they should avoid birth control pills that have high dosages of estrogen. Increase estrogen can reduce a mother’s milk supply. Instead, many obstetricians-gynecologists will prescribe a progesterone only birth control pill.
8 Lowers Mom’s Risk For Ovarian Cancer
A study published in the “American Journal of Clinical Nutrition” found that women who breastfeed for more than 13 months are 63 percent less likely to develop an ovarian tumor than compared with a woman who breastfeed for seven months. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the less likely she is to get ovarian cancer.
Researchers theorize that breastfeeding lowers ovarian cancer risk because it reduces the number of times a woman ovulates. Fewer ovulations mean there are less opportunities for the cells in the uterus to mutate and become cancerous.
Ovarian cancers are the fifth-leading cause of cancer death in women. Ovarian cancer tumors can be difficult to detect because they are often small and do not cause symptoms until their later stages. Breastfeeding is one of the highly beneficial ways that a woman can not only nourish her baby, but can also reduce her personal risk for ovarian cancer.
7 Decreases The Risk Of Anemia In Mom
Anemia is a decreased amount of iron in the body. Iron is vital to a woman’s healthy because iron carries oxygen and plays a role in other important functions in the body. When a woman has her period, she may often be anemic because she is losing blood.
While mothers do use iron in the creation of breast milk to feed her baby, this is often at a lesser rate than when she is menstruating, according to Le Leche League International. The longer a mom is able to breastfeed her baby, the more she enjoys this boost of additional iron.
Symptoms a woman may experience iron-deficiency anemia include fatigue, weakness, pale skin, cold hands, brittle nails, and shortness of breath. A woman shouldn’t ignore these symptoms if she has them. Treatments are available to increase the amount of iron in the blood.
6 Helps Women Lose The Pregnancy Weight
Breastfeeding takes anywhere from 200 to 500 calories per day of a mother’s energy, according to La Leche League, International (LLLI). To burn this many calories, a woman would have to swim at least 30 laps in a pool to burn the equivalent amount of calories that she burns while breastfeeding.
Also, according to LLLI, non-breastfeeding mothers typically lose less weight and are less likely to keep their post-pregnancy weight off after birth.
In the three months postpartum period, breastfeeding women usually have a greater weight loss, reduced body fat percentage, and less hip and thigh circumference at three months postpartum compared to mothers who did not breastfeed or breastfed their babies on a part-time basis.
If a woman is breastfeeding, her ideal focus should be eating to her own hunger, not on eating to lose weight at this time. Her body needs enough calories to produce high-quality breast milk for her baby.
5 Reduces The Risk Of Mom Getting Diabetes
According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), women who had gestational diabetes and breastfeed have a reduced risk for being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes for up to two years after having their baby. The NIH evaluated more than 1,000 women who experienced gestational diabetes, and tracked them for more than two years, publishing the results in the “Annals of Internal Medicine.”
An estimated 5 to 9 percent of women experience gestational diabetes. While this does not mean a woman will have type 2 diabetes later in life, gestational diabetes can increase a woman’s risk for type 2 diabetes.
Breastfeeding benefits mom by improving the body’s ability to utilize glucose for energy. Breastfeeding also makes the body more sensitive to insulin, allowing the body to use insulin more effectively as a means to process glucose.
4 Mom Will Have Higher HDL (Good) Cholesterol
Breastfeeding mothers tend to have higher levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol. This cholesterol type is more beneficial when higher. In the body, HDL cholesterol can scavenge through the body, retrieving “bad” cholesterol and sending it back to the liver to be broken down and released from the body.
Not only do breastfeeding mothers have higher incidences of HDL cholesterol, their babies are also more likely to have higher levels of HDL cholesterol. However, it’s not usually advised that women who are breastfeeding get their cholesterol levels checked, according to NBC News.
This is because lactating women typically have higher cholesterol levels overall because they are producing cholesterol in higher numbers to pass along to their babies, who need it to make supportive cell walls. Otherwise, most women should have their cholesterol levels checked every five years after age 20.
3 Reduces Mom’s Risk For Osteoporosis
According to “Fit Pregnancy,” breastfeeding offers long-term benefits in terms of stronger bones and a reduced risk for osteoporosis. Osteoporosis is a bone-wasting disease that puts a woman at greater risk for bone fractures, particularly of the hips, back, and wrists. While a woman’s bones may initially be thinner while breastfeeding due to increased calcium demands, the body often compensates after she finishes breastfeeding.
After a woman who breastfed approaches menopause, she has a lower risk for osteoporosis. According to Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., a professor of pediatrics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry interviewed in Fit Pregnancy, “When a woman is pregnant and lactating, her body absorbs more calcium much more efficiently.” Dr. Lawrence says a woman’s bones tend to become denser about six months after pregnancy.
2 Reduces Mom’s Risk For Cardiovascular Disease
Breastfeeding is associated with a reduce risk for cardiovascular disease later in life. According to a study published in the journal “Pediatrics,” women who breastfeed for less than 12 months in their lifetime had a higher risk for cardiovascular conditions. Examples of these conditions include heart disease, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
Mothers who breastfed for at least 12 months had a 38.6 percent chance of developing hypertension after menopause while mothers who did not breastfeed had a 42.1 percent chance. Hypertension is defined as having a blood pressure that’s higher than 140/90 mmHg on more than one occasion.
Heart disease is known as a silent killer of women. It can lead to heart attack, stroke, and early death. Taking any kind of steps, such as breastfeeding for 12 months or longer, can help a woman enjoy healthier benefits over the course of her lifetime.
1 Reduces Mom’s Risk For Postpartum Depression
According to LiveScience.com, women who did not breastfeed experienced greater rates of postpartum depression than those who did. According to an Australian health study, women who weaned their babies early or who did not breastfeed at all were at higher risk for postpartum depression.
According to the National Institutes of Health, an estimated 8 to 20 percent of American women experience postpartum depression. Symptoms associated with the condition include sadness, low energy, difficulty sleeping, and anxiety. The risk factors for postpartum depression aren’t well-understood.
However, researchers may add refraining from breastfeeding as one of the contributing factors that could cause a woman to experience this condition that can affect a mom’s quality of life and bonding with her baby after she gives birth. Fortunately, postpartum depression is highly treatable with counseling and medications.
Resources: BreastCancer.org, HealthyChildren.org, TheSimpleDollar.com, LLLI.org, NIH.gov, ScientificAmerican.com