6 Surprising Benefits of Breastfeeding
Well, I am awaiting the birth of baby #4 any day now, and I have to admit that I have been struggling with the thought of breastfeeding again. It's such a sacrifice for some mothers to make, and I confess that over the years of endless feedings, mastitis, and life revolving around two-hour snatches of time, I have lost sight of the tremendous benefits that breastfeeding can bring.
To help refresh my memory, I did a little research on some of the more surprising benefits of breastfeeding …
Breastfeeding reduces the risks of SIDS
A study in Pediatrics revealed that breastfeeding exclusively in the first month of life can reduce the risk of SIDS by a shocking half. After studying the association between breastfeeding and SIDS, researchers concluded that both exclusive and partial breastfeeding were linked to drastically decreased rates of SIDS.
Breastfeeding can help you get back in your pre-pregnancy jeans faster
I'm not someone who loses weight while breastfeeding, but breastfeeding alone can help your uterus snap back into its pre-pregnancy size, helping you slide back into your jeans a little bit faster. Breastfeeding helps the uterus contract back in about six weeks instead of approximately 10 weeks if you don't breastfeed.
It customizes to your baby's needs
Don't ask me how, but breast milk is a pretty amazing concoction, because somehow, it adjusts automatically to fulfill your baby's nutrition needs. The breast milk of a mother with a preemie baby, for instance, is going to be a lot different than a full-term baby. Even mothers to boys and mothers to girls have differences in their milk. As your baby grows, your milk's composition will change right along with him – or her – to ensure that he or she is getting exactly what is needed.
Breastfeeding gives your baby super immunity powers
We're all so worried about germs and new babies, but a breastfed baby actually has some super hidden immunity powers–all from you. Immunoglobins from you (those are large proteins that fight off the bad stuff) actually layer all the major sites of invasion in your baby's body from the get-go, including his mucus membranes, intestines, nose, and throat. That's some awesome protection, but don't let visitors skip out on the hand sanitizer just yet …
Breastfeeding completely changes your baby's intestinal bacteria
In the human body, our intestines are lined with tons of bacteria, called “normal flora,” that lay the groundwork for important body functions such as digestion and even regulating our immune systems. What's interesting to note is that in breastfed babies, the normal flora of the intestine is completely different than a bottle-fed babies. One study found that breastfed babies' flora consisted mainly of lactobacilli and streptococci, while the formula-fed infants showed more staphylococci, Escherichia coli, and clostridia. While we're still unsure of what exactly this means, there are many theories that point to the differences in flora leading to the development of allergies, like gluten intolerance.
Breastfeeding may lower a mother's risk of breast cancer
While this area is still being studied more intensively, the American Cancer Society states that breastfeeding is associated with a slight decrease in breast cancer among women. The risk is especially lowered with longer durations of breastfeeding and seems to affect the most aggressive types of breast cancer.
Did you breastfeed? Why or why not? (No judgment, please!)