So Why Should I Breastfeed Anyway?
by Jill Lindquist
The decision to breastfeed your baby is a big
one, no doubt. There are different opinions and plenty of advice from
well-meaning people. You may also find confusion and mixed messages as you
research this decision. How do you keep it all straight and sift through the
information to find what’s best for you? I am a Lactation Consultant and a
Registered Nurse with nearly 20 years of experience in the field of lactation.
I’ve worked in several different metro area hospitals assisting mothers with
all aspects of breastfeeding. I’ve also worked with mothers in a variety of
settings; from hospitals, home births, and home care, as well as follow up phone
calls, outpatient support and consultation. I’m here to help you sort it all
out; why breastfeeding is truly best-feeding.
Deciding to breastfeed is one of the biggest decisions you will face now that
you are expecting a baby.I hope this will article will help clear things up for
you and show you that not only is your breast milk the best food for your baby,
breastfeeding is also very doable with a little support and education.
Your baby gets wonderful immunity they can’t get anywhere else when
breastfeeding. Throughout the duration of your life your body has been building
up antibodies against colds, flus and other diseases. An antibody is a part of
your immune system, which helps identify and fight bacteria and viruses. All
these wonderful antibodies from your body are present in your breast milk,
giving your baby protection from disease every time they nurse.
Your breast milk provides precisely what your baby needs, exactly when they need
it. Your breast milk is species specific and made just for them and their
needs. Your baby will regulate how much milk they need by how often they eat
and their nursing style. Your body receives all the messages it needs to
provide milk for your baby. Mother Nature is very strong! Breast milk is
living fluid you make continuously and individually for each baby.
Breastfeeding is economical as well. When researching the amount of money it
costs to provide formula to your baby, the answers varied slightly. Because not
every baby consumes the same amount of ounces of formula per year, I have taken
a yearly average. Based on the average, cost of formula per month is $300. That
becomes $3,600.00 per year you can save by breastfeeding your baby.
What an amazing process! Your baby gets immunities from you that they can never
receive from anything else, even donor milk. You provide exactly what your baby
needs, when they need it, all while saving thousands of dollars. The benefits
don’t stop there. Starting your baby off with a healthy digestive system plays
an important role for their future health.
Your breast milk contains so much more than you could ever imagine. Sometimes
it can be hard to believe that your body can do all this without you even
knowing it. Your baby will continue to receive these benefits as long as you
keep providing breast milk. So breastfeed away, knowing your body is hard at
work and your baby is getting all the benefits. There are so many good elements
and advantages in your breast milk. You are actually preparing your baby for
Did you know that breastfeeding helps improve your baby’s cognitive
development in their brain? Cognitive development is the ability to think and
understand. This helps your baby in all aspects of their life. Cognitive
development covers many aspects of human growth, including reasoning, vision and
language recognition just to name a few.
Stem cells are the “gems” of breast milk. These cells are undifferentiated;
meaning they have not become a specialized cell, or have not found a home yet.
These cells are not yet “liver” cells or “muscle” cells. Researchers
have discovered three different types of stem cells in breast milk, which is
very unique. When your baby receives your breast milk, their little body will
“direct traffic” and tell each stem cell where it will help their body the
most. This is so important to a new little baby who is making the transition to
life outside of their mother.
The first milk your baby receives, also called colostrum, is loaded with 50,000
stem cells per milliliter; a milliliter is about 1/5th of a teaspoon. This is
exactly what your baby needs to help make this transition to independent life.
Stem cells continue to be present in your mature milk. There are still 100 stem
cells per milliliter of mature milk. This process continues as long as your
baby receives your breast milk.
Another benefit of breast milk is that it helps protect your baby’s intestinal
system the moment it hits their stomach. Breast milk lines your baby’s gut
with a protective coating preventing diarrhea and abdominal cramping. Colostrum
coats the gut right after birth with their first feeding, no waiting!
All babies are born with an immature digestive system. Their gut or digestive
system is permeable, allowing liquids and gases to pass through, leaving your
baby at risk of developing diarrhea and allergies. Your breast milk coats their
gut, protecting and maturing it, keeping the gut more acidic which reduces the
bacteria. When a baby receives even one formula feeding, this changes the
entire balance of the gut. It will take at least 2-4 weeks to return the gut to
its desirable state. This is an even bigger challenge with premature and sick
babies, and is the number one reason neonatologists prefer breast milk for these
fragile digestive systems.
Breast milk also helps prevent childhood obesity. There are 5 specific
“anti-obesity” hormones present in your breast milk. Not only is your baby
receiving these hormones, but your child will also learn proper eating habits
right from birth. They eat when they are hungry and stop when they are full.
The baby makes the decision when they are done, not the person who is giving
them a bottle. The ideas of “finish the whole bottle” or “clean your
plate” is often the route to later problems with managing obesity. The baby
deciding when they are done is always the best measure of a healthy appetite.
Breastfeeding has also shown to lower the risk of SIDS: Sudden Infant Death
Syndrome. It decreases the risk of ear infections, colds and flu; as well as
the risk of childhood leukemia and childhood onset diabetes. It has been shown
to increase intelligence. That is just a sample of all the benefits your breast
milk provides to your baby.
Isn’t it amazing what your body can do? These benefits last a lifetime!
Benefits that you; and you alone, can give to your baby. The satisfaction you
will have is like no other you have experienced. It’s important to see that
even some breastfeeding or breast milk is crucial to the development of your
child. Laying this groundwork early on will set your child up for the
healthiest beginning possible. I’m fairly certain that scientists will
discover even more perks of breast milk in the near future. I haven’t
forgotten about you! The benefits don’t end with your baby; you get an
abundance of benefits as well!
When you breastfeed, your uterus returns to its pre-pregnant state more quickly
and you experience less blood loss. The two main hormones involved in
breastfeeding are oxytocin, which contracts the milk ducts and prolactin, which
makes the milk. When your baby nurses oxytocin tightens the milk ducts and
releases the milk to your baby. In addition, oxytocin contracts your uterus,
helping to shrink it down to its pre-pregnant state, which is about the size of
your fist. This results in a flatter tummy quicker! By contracting your uterus
so efficiently, this also helps prevent heavy bleeding or even hemorrhaging
Breastfeeding can also help protect you against breast and ovarian cancer. The
longer you nurse, the more protection you will receive. Estrogen is a hormone
that fuels 80% of all breast cancers. When you are breastfeeding, your estrogen
levels are reduced therefore decreasing your risk of breast cancer. Some
research also states that while your breasts are lactating, your breast cells
change and are more resistant to cancer-related mutations. You also receive
protection against ovarian cancer. Most women do not ovulate while breastfeeding
and experts agree that women who ovulate less often have a decreased risk of
ovarian cancer. Most research shows a decreased risk by one third if you
breastfeed for a total of 18 months collectively between all your breastfeeding
experiences. This sounds like a win-win situation!
Osteoporosis is a medical condition where bones become brittle and fragile.
Many people feel they are at risk for this when they breastfeed as the baby
“takes the calcium” away from mom. This is a myth. Actually,
non-breastfeeding women have a four times greater chance of developing
osteoporosis than breastfeeding mothers. According to the NIH Osteoporosis and
Related Bone Diseases National Resource Center, breastfeeding mothers often have
stronger bones than those who have never breastfed.
Would you like to lose your extra baby weight without extra exercise? Sounds
like a trick question doesn’t it? I’m here to tell you this is no joke.
Your body burns 300-500 calories, or more, per day making breast milk for your
baby. La Leche League Breastfeeding Answer Book states that breastfeeding
mothers lose more weight than bottle-feeding mothers, even if the bottle feeding
mothers consume fewer calories. They go on to say that with exclusive
breastfeeding, mothers have an average decrease in body fat and in hip and lower
thigh circumference. You can’t beat that!
There is much more to breastfeeding than I’ve mentioned. The psychological,
social and emotional aspects you both receive cannot be measured. Breastfeeding
provides a unique interaction between you and your baby. The skin-to-skin
nurturing and closeness cannot be replicated. Breastfeeding provides you with
regular time for resting and relaxing with your baby, as the two of you grow
close, develop a relationship with each other and begin an emotional bond that
lasts a lifetime. Like I said, you can’t beat those benefits!
Sometimes I wish I was breastfeeding again. It was a very magical time for me
and my children, one I will never forget! Knowing your body is protecting you
against some long-term illnesses is pretty amazing. Putting some odds in your
favor can’t hurt.
My last bit of advice to you is this:
Look for accurate information as you make this decision. The more educated you
are the more prepared you will be. Get your support system in place. You may
have to tap into them right away after the birth. Keep well-meaning people with
negative advice at arms’ length. They may love you and care about you and
your baby, but they may not be giving you the answers you need or the support
you are looking for.
Be patient with yourself and your baby. Trust yourself as the mother. No one
knows your baby better than you do. After all, this relationship took 9 months
to develop before you even laid eyes on each other! You already knew them
before you met them.
Seek help whenever you feel the need. You may need to talk to a lactation
consultant on a regular basis. You have to remember this is an ever-changing
ride between a mother and her child. Getting help with your problems and
answers to your questions can make the difference between a great experience and
one you would like to forget.
I hope this clarifies a lot of myths for you about breastfeeding. It is very
doable with a little support and education. It’s a decision you won’t
regret. Congratulations and good luck to you!