Breastfeeding is one of the most controversial subjects on social media and the news today. For as many women who feel guilty because they cannot breastfeed or because they can only breastfeed for a short time, other women receive ridicule for breastfeeding into toddlerhood or even feeding their infants in public. Here, you can learn about the scientifically proven benefits of breastfeeding at any age and for any length of time.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding for a Short Time
Some women are only able to breastfeed for a few weeks—or even for a few days—after their infant’s birth for various reasons, and there are plenty of benefits associated with breastfeeding even for this short period. They include:
Better postpartum recovery.
Breastfeeding stimulates the production of a hormone known as oxytocin in the female body. Oxytocin stimulates uterine contractions, which helps with postpartum blood loss. What’s more, women who breastfeed find that their uteruses return to normal size within six weeks’ time as opposed to closer to 10 weeks for women who do not breastfeed.
All-natural birth control.
Breastfeeding your baby on a regular schedule delays ovulation, which in turn prevents pregnancy. However, you should never rely on this form of birth control alone. If you miss even a single feeding and your prolactin levels drop, ovulation can occur. If nothing else, you can enjoy a vacation from your monthly visitor as long as you keep breastfeeding.
Your baby receives unique antibodies.
When you breastfeed your baby, your infant receives antibodies that you have developed against certain bacteria, viruses and diseases that boost his or her developing immune system. For this reason, he or she may be less prone to colds, the flu and other common infections.
A better bonding experience.
Many mothers who have both breastfed and formula fed claim that breastfeeding provided a bonding experience unlike anything else. They also claim that they had a feeling of empowerment when they see their babies grow and thrive on the breastmilk they produce. These benefits apply to everyone, even if you are only able to breastfeed your baby for the first few weeks of his or her life. Even breastfeeding for just a few days can help boost your baby’s immune system and help your own body recover from giving birth.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding for the First Year
Most nutritionists and physicians recommend breastfeeding your baby for the first year of his or her life if it is at all possible. There are several benefits associated with doing so, and they include:
It helps your baby thrive.
Although your baby may start eating some solid foods at only around six months of age, pediatricians and nutritionists say that infants should take the majority of their nutrients from breastmilk for the first year of their lives.
It may prevent allergies.
Some studies show that children born to mothers who breastfed exclusively for the first six months develop fewer allergies to foods and common allergens like dander and pollen than formula-fed babies do.
It may prevent obesity.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says that breastfeeding reduces a child’s risk of becoming obese or overweight. They believe that these babies learn early on to eat only until their hunger is satisfied, and science shows that breast milk contains far less insulin—which stimulates the development of fat—than formula does. For the most part, breastfeeding your baby for the first year of his or her life is a great goal. Your breastmilk contains all of the right nutrition and health benefits for your baby at this stage of his or her life.
The Benefits of Breastfeeding Beyond the First Year
Breastmilk meets nutritional requirements.
Beyond the first year, breastmilk continues to meet the nutritional requirements of toddlers and small children. It contains almost all of the vitamin B12 your child needs, 75 percent of the vitamin A and folic acid, about 60 percent of the vitamin C, about 50 percent of the protein and more than a quarter of the calcium and calories your baby needs each day.
Extended breastfeeding protects your child from illnesses.
Although some studies claim otherwise and state that the components included in today’s baby formulas provide the exact same compounds as mother’s milk, this is not the case. When a mother breastfeeds her own child beyond the first year, she provides nutrition customized for that child, including antibodies and other components that help develop her baby’s immune system, that was designed by the very same body that incubated the baby. Bear in mind that not every child should continue to breastfeed beyond the first year of his or her life. At this point, a child should consume everyday foods along with his or her family and take the majority of his or her nutrition from those foods. Breastfeeding should supplement that nutrition but not replace it. If your child is reluctant to consume food, you might want to consider weaning—at least partially. Otherwise, the benefits of extended breastfeeding are clear. If you are unable to breastfeed for any reason, do not despair. Pumping your breastmilk for bottle feedings provides the same health benefits for you and for your baby, and even if this is not an option, research over the last few years proves the continuous improvement of baby formula, which closely mimics human milk. However, there is no denying the benefit of breastfeeding, even if you can only do so for a short time.
Related Content: The Benefits of Delayed Cord Clamping
In the past, the common practice was to pass Dad the surgical scissors and have him perform a quick snip just before the newborn babe was whisked away to be cleaned, measured and dosed with vitamin K. Any delay in cord cutting was viewed as unnecessary in promoting general health for the baby or mother. However, recent research suggests that a delay of even three minutes can have a significant positive impact on infants.