Breastfeeding Benefits

Veronica Tingzon, IBCLC By Veronica Tingzon, IBCLC, RLC

Every so often, a news article or report comes out in the media that refutes the health benefits of breastfeeding. However, we’ve all known for a long time that proper nutrition is an essential component to over-all good health. And, proper nutrition begins with the very first meal. There was an entire generation of people who never had a drop of mother’s milk; that generation happens to have the highest disease rates ever. So, why is it that new mothers are still on the fence about suckling their babies? If there was a magic pill that made everyone their healthiest, you better believe that most people would want to take that magic pill. Breastfeeding is as close to that magic pill as we could get, when it comes to good health. So, again, why is it that many new moms truly believe that there is no difference between breastfeeding and formula feeding? Why is it that moms still feel that if they don’t breastfeed, their child will still be all right?

So, let’s hear the truth about the “why-to” of breastfeeding your baby. In many breastfeeding books and prenatal classes, the “why-to’s” are approached as benefits to breastfeeding, however I want to flip it and look at the detriments of not breastfeeding your baby:

FOR BABY:

Breastfeeding can Prevent Allergies: Breastfeeding reduces the number of allergenic responses. The more exposure one gets to an allergen, the higher the propensity for that allergy to take full effect on a person. Soy and dairy allergies are two of the most common nutritional allergies out there. From infancy, we are habitually introducing the allergens to a new, untainted gut, disrupting the proper pH levels in the stomach and intestines, and forcing the absorption of foods that this baby’s gut wasn’t ready to process yet. Thus, the build-up of this process causes malabsorption in the gut and a weakened gut/immune response. Diseases such as Asthma, Crohn’s Disease, Colitis, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Nutritional Allergies, and Eczema are a few examples of this response.

Breastfeeding can Prevent Obesity and Diabetes: We all know that we’re to eat well-balanced meals, in the right proportion & amount in order to maintain an ideal weight. The premise holds true for babies also. Too many moms believe that a newborn should be drinking two-ounces of formula because the prepackaged bottle comes with that amount in it. Or, that a 2 month old should chug a six-ounce bottle because that is what he/she can take. The bottle feeder doesn’t understand the get-full, stop-eating message that the breast feeder does. When at breast, the baby has rest periods and will begin gulping again when another milk-ejection (let-down of milk) happens. These periods of active eating and then resting periods allow for the satiation signal to get to the brain before the baby is overfilled. On the bottle, the baby gulps and gulps. He/she has no choice but to swallow as the milk flows pretty constantly through the bottle. Thus, as the baby feeds too quickly, the stomach may be overfilled before the brain recognizes its satiation. This allows for too rapid of a weight gain, and the stepping-stone for obesity throughout a lifetime. This is also the cause of unstable insulin levels, which create a higher taxation on the pancreas. This higher pancreatic burnout is propelling high type 2 Diabetes rates.

Breastfeeding can Prevent Ear Infections and Colds: This is the most remarkable of the discernable effects on baby from being breastfed. As you breathe your baby’s environment, you are exposed to all of the same germs that your baby is exposed to. Your body has memory immune cells that recognize these germs, if you’ve been exposed to them in the past. Your own immune system will begin making antibodies to this particular germ, thus, protecting you from illness. The amazing thing is that, through the entero-mammary pathway (the gateway linking your milk and your immune system), your breastmilk also picks up on those immune factors passing on the protective antibodies to your baby. Therefore, your baby doesn’t get sick or may get sick but has a much less severe strain of illness.

Breastfeeding Aids in Digestion: And, of course, since this food is the ideal food your baby, in that it is the most bioavailable food source- with the ability to be digested much more easily, gas, constipation, and smelly poops are all greatly reduced in occurrence.

FOR MOM:

Breastfeeding is Convenient: Sure, the first six weeks are hard! You’re learning how to position the baby properly. You can’t imagine being able to breastfeed your baby without your special pillow, chair, footstool, etc… You can’t even begin to think about what you’d have to do if your baby got hungry on a public outing. Believe it or not, you’ll get good at it when that time comes. I remember many times when I was nursing my son while pushing a grocery cart or reaching for the Cheerios. It’s all about practice. But, I honestly can say that is nice to NOT have to pack bottles, formula, and the likes on outings and trips. You feel like a pack mule when there is so much to carry.

Breastfeeding and Avoidance of Certain Cancers: The reproductive cancers like Breast, Ovarian, and Uterine are lowered by up to 40% with each child you suckle over 6 months. The percentages increase with each child that nurses and for a lengthier time period of nursing. Especially if you have a family history of breast cancer, these are percentages that work in your favor.

Breastfeeding and Lactational Amenorrhea: Since the hormones that are involved in making milk are in full swing (Prolactin & Oxytocin), the hormones that prepare the uterus for possible pregnancy are depleted (Progesterone & Estrogen). Therefore, a mother who is breastfeeding is less likely to have a menstrual period while breastfeeding. The average return of menstruation coincides with the introduction of solid foods. Once baby is introduced to solids, moms may see a return of menses around the 6th, 7th, or 8th month of their baby’s life.

Breastfeeding and Weight Loss: You get up to 500 extra calories a day when breastfeeding! There is a belief that all moms will lose weight while breastfeeding their babies, however, it doesn’t always work that way. Nursing your baby may go a long way to preventing further weight gain due to the extra caloric requirement for milk making, but not all moms reap the benefit of weight loss. However, many moms have been thrilled to see that they are fitting into their skinny jeans once again on breastfeeding- alone.

Breastfeeding and Uterine Involution: Oxytocin (the hormone involved in milk ejection) also causes the uterus to contract. Its synthetic form (Pitocin) is used as a labor inducer for this very reason. Therefore, the mom that breastfeeds will have a pre-pregnant sized uterus much more quickly than her non-nursing counterparts. This also helps prevent uterine problems in the future due to weak uterine muscles and prolapsed uterine structures.

Breastfeeding Saves Money $$$$$$$: The financial impact of not breastfeeding your baby can be in the thousands, dollar-wise. Formula feeding can cost between $2,500 and $3,000 per year. Add on to that, sterile water, bottles, nipples/teats, and all of the other products that you may want and the formula feeding gets pretty pricey. Breastfeeding is free. Sure, you can buy expensive pumps, and other products, but if you moderate your spending, breastfeeding truly doesn’t have to cost you a dime.

FOR THE ENVIRONMENT:

The environmental impact of not breastfeeding is something I also think about when asking myself “why should I breastfeed”? More and more landfills are over crowded with otherwise recyclable products. Formula cans litter landfills in epic proportions. The impact of the manufacture of formula also has great repercussions to earth and water systems. And, where do those bottles and nipples go once we’re done with them? Sure, there are going to be some moms that need to supplement with formula occasionally. There may even be some moms that, due to low milk production, may have to fully formula feed their babies. However, if you are on the fence on whether to breastfeed or not, I hope that you chose to do what is best for you and your baby. Simply put, breastfeeding is not only best, it is what your baby was designed to do.