The benefits of breastfeeding

The World Health Organisation promotes exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. We explore some of the benefits of the act of breastfeeding for both a mother and her baby.

Most moms are aware that their breast milk contains an abundance of nutrients and protective antibodies. But there are various other advantages such as the intimacy it affords you and your baby. It is a beautiful way to bond with your little munchkin and increase physical closeness. Breastfeeding also ensures you will hold your baby many times a day.

Erica Neser, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant is a wealth of advice on baby feeding and says, “Breastfeeding can increase a mother’s attentiveness to her baby’s needs, and increased holding, touching and eye contact promotes a strong and healthy attachment between mother and child.” Nesser continues, “Because breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin (the mothering hormone), the mother feels more connected to her baby and bonding is enhanced. Healthy attachment is a biological necessity for optimal brain development, and for long-term health and happiness.”

Although breastfeeding may initially take time and practise to perfect, once your baby is a few weeks old it is generally quick, convenient, easy and saves time and energy.

Benefits for the baby 

  • The act of breastfeeding requires a sophisticated coordination of the baby’s jaw and tongue muscles. Children who are breastfed are less likely to have problems with the alignment of their teeth or an overcrowded mouth.
  • Breastfeeding enhances airway development. Together with improved jaw development, this may be responsible for a reduced risk of sleep apnoea.
  • Babies who are fed directly from the breast are less likely to be overweight, as breastfeeding supports the baby’s innate sense of when to stop feeding.
  • Breastfeeding may decrease the risk of disease, including middle ear infections, respiratory tract infections and cold and flu.
  • Breastfeeding helps babies to fall asleep. They are able to relax in their mother’s arms as they are soothed, loved and fed to sleep.

Benefits for the mother

  • Breastfeeding helps shrink the uterus back to its “new normal”.
  • Breastfeeding decreases bleeding after birth.
  • It ensures menstruation returns much later – the absence of periods helps to restore iron levels, which come under pressure during pregnancy and birth.
  • Breastfeeding can extend the time between pregnancies by suppressing ovulation (although it is best to discuss a method of contraception during this time as an added safety measure).
  • Breastfeeding can help you return to your pre-pregnancy weight earlier.
  • Breastfeeding decreases the risk of breast, uterine and ovarian cancer, hip fractures, osteoporosis, multiple sclerosis, obesity, heart disease, diabetes, stroke, rheumatoid arthritis and high blood pressure.
  • Breastfeeding hormones such as oxytocin help you to feel relaxed, peaceful and sleepy.

What if you don’t breastfeed?

Don’t stress if you can’t or choose not to breastfeed. Breastfeeding is only one of many ways to bond with your baby. There are other attachment parenting principles that will ensure you develop a deep connection, such as wearing your baby in a sling, skin-to-skin contact and baby massage.