About The Author
Dr. Andrea Wadley is the owner, pediatrician, and breastfeeding medicine specialist for 127 Pediatrics. She has an established house-calls only pediatric practice in Colleyville, TX. She is also the owner and operator of the 127 Pediatrics Online Breastfeeding Medicine and Education Center.
Breastfeeding benefits for babies
Babies benefit greatly from breast milk and breastfeeding. They enjoy many more health benefits over formula-fed babies.
During the first twenty four hours of life, breastfed babies receive an early form of breast milk that is called colostrum. This thick, yellow fluid gives babies an early dose of antibodies and immune protection. In addition to the first day of life, babies who are breastfed continue to enjoy the benefits of immune protection throughout the duration of breastfeeding. Breast milk is dynamic and changes according to the baby’s needs at the time, both nutritionally and immune wise.
Decreases risks of childhood illnesses
Breastfeeding protects children from many of the most common childhood illnesses. Breastfed infants are less likely to have ear infections, respiratory infections and chronic diarrhea. Human milk contains many cells that fight infection, while baby formula does not.
Sets baby up for a healthy weight in the future
Exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life will help prevent the future risk of obesity. Babies who breastfeed directly are able to regulate their intake better than bottle fed or formula fed babies. Since breastfeeding is an active process, babies are able to react sooner to their “fullness” cues and not overeat. This regulation will continue even after they have started to eat solid foods.
Benefits the gut and the brain
Human milk contains cells that help to close the gaps in the immature intestinal system and help the gut to mature. Additionally, breast milk helps to colonize the baby’s digestive tract with “good” bacteria that are thought to play a role in immune function as well as risk of future obesity. It has also been shown that breast milk plays an important role in brain development and cognitive function.
Breast milk is a superfood
Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby. Breast milk contains all of the proteins, fats, carbohydrates and nutrients that your baby needs for the first six months of life. After that, breast milk continues to provide for your baby’s needs with the addition of complementary table foods.
However, there is one ingredient that breast milk lacks.
In the U.S. most mothers are deficient in Vitamin D and therefore do not pass this vitamin into their breast milk. Mothers obtain Vitamin D through sun exposure, their diet and extra vitamin supplements. In order to pass enough Vitamin D to her baby through breast milk, a mother needs to take 6400 IU of Vitamin D daily. An alternative to this would be to supplement the baby directly. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies who are exclusively breastfed receive 400 IU of Vitamin D supplements daily.
Benefits of breastfeeding for mothers
Breastfeeding is a natural process that offers many benefits for mothers as well. Mothers benefit from the hormonal effects of breastfeeding as well as the physical act of breastfeeding itself.
Decreased postpartum bleeding
Breastfeeding mothers experience faster healing and less postpartum bleeding. The hormone oxytocin is involved in both breastfeeding and uterine contractions. This hormone is released from a woman’s brain when her baby suckles at the breast. It travels to both the breast and the uterus. Oxytocin acts on receptors in the breast to cause milk release from the milk ducts as well as on the uterus to cause contractions. This process decreases the size of the uterus and therefore bleeding.
Improved mental health
While breastfeeding mothers are not completely protected from anxiety and depression, studies have shown that breastfeeding decreases the risk of postpartum depression in mothers. The increases in the “feel good” and “bonding” hormone oxytocin offers protection from depressive symptoms. Often, when a mother feels more bonded to her baby, she has less risk of negative feelings.
Less risk of certain conditions
Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of ovarian cancer and risk of breast cancer. Additionally, breastfeeding mothers have a lower incidence of high blood pressure and type 2 diabetes. Some mothers who are exclusively breastfeeding can return to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly. Breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories per day when a woman has a full milk supply.
Increases space between babies
Exclusive breastfeeding around the clock for the first several months of a baby’s life will suppress ovulation or keep her body from releasing an egg into the uterus. This helps to space the time between births.
This type of birth control only works when breast milk is the sole source of nutrition for the infant. Once the baby is eating less breast milk because they are eating other foods, lactation an-ovulation is no longer a reliable form of birth control.
An additional benefit to exclusive breastfeeding that we might not often think about is that it is more environmentally friendly than other forms of infant feeding. When a baby is directly breastfeeding from the breast, there is nothing to throw away. Bottle feeding creates waste of cans, plastic liners, bottles, and other sources of trash.
Tips for successful breastfeeding
The definition of success with breastfeeding can look different for every woman. Looking ahead and planning out a route will go a long way to helping a woman achieve her breastfeeding goals.
Prepare while you are pregnant
Regular prenatal care is important for not only your health, but for that of the baby as well. Women who have regular prenatal care are less likely to go into preterm labor or experience other complications that could make breastfeeding more difficult.
Attend a breastfeeding class either in person or online.
Discuss any health conditions that you may have with your physician. Certain conditions can cause breastfeeding to be more challenging. Additionally, certain medications may not be compatible with breastfeeding.
Make sure that you tour the hospital or birthing center before delivery. Discuss your plans to breastfeed and ask what their policies are for early skin to skin contact, what happens during the “golden hour” and what support is available to help with breastfeeding
Breastfeeding can be very difficult for most women, especially in the first few weeks. Ensuring that you are surrounded by supportive friends and family will help you to be able to focus on breastfeeding during the critical first few weeks.
Ask for help with meals, chores, caring for your other children or anything else that will free you up to focus on the baby. Depending on your budget, night nannies and postpartum doulas can definitely make life a little easier during the postpartum period. Just ensure that these support people are aware that you still want to nurse your baby in the middle of the night and not give a bottle.
Andrea Wadley, MD, IBCLC
Pediatrician, Breastfeeding medicine specialist
Owner and head pediatrician for 127 Pediatrics