Any time you’re around new parents, the topic of breastfeeding surely comes up. Many medical experts, like the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, highly recommend breastfeeding exclusively for the first 6 months, and breastfeeding with other foods for an additional year, starting at 6 months.
That being said, babies and parents are unique and need their own routine. For some, breastfeeding may not be an option, and is a personal choice. And that’s ok! We’re not here to tell you what to do, or to spark controversy. In honor of National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, we want to highlight the facts and benefits of breastfeeding for both baby and parents.
Benefits for Babies
Breast milk actually morphs to meet a baby’s needs as they change… it’s custom-made! It contains tons of antibodies that protect your baby, along with the perfect mix of vitamins, fat and protein. In fact, breast milk is higher in protein and lower in sugar than formula, making it ideal for your baby’s digestion.
More protection from chronic conditions
Some research has shown that breastfed babies have a higher antibody response to vaccines. Those antibodies that protect your baby also helps them build immunity to colds, viruses, pneumonia and gastrointestinal infections. Breast milk also helps reduce the risk of developing chronic conditions, like celiac disease, Crohn’s disease, and type I diabetes. It also lowers the risk of asthma and allergies. And according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections and respiratory illnesses.
Lower childhood cancer risk
Breastfeeding can decrease a baby's risk of some childhood cancers. According to a study by JAMA Pediatrics, breastfeeding a child for 6 months or longer is associated with a 19% lower risk for childhood leukemia.
Lower SIDS risk
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, breastfeeding decreases the risk of sudden infant death syndrome by 50%.
The physical closeness breastfeeding provides between parent and baby, can help them bond and feel more secure.
Benefits for Parents and Nursing Mothers
According to Dr. Ruth Lawrence, author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Professional, women who breastfeed have a lower risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis. That’s because when a woman is lactating, her body absorbs calcium more efficiently.
Lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancer
Breastfeeding also lowers the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Postdelivery, a woman’s body needs to heal. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, which helps the uterus return to its normal size sooner, and helps reduce postdelivery blood loss.
Breastfeeding is an experience that can strengthen the bond between fellow breastfeeding mothers. Giving and receiving support from these groups of women can help cultivate friendships, and can help each breastfeeding mother navigate the ups and downs of their experience.
According to La Leche League International, the cost of formula can range anywhere from $134 to $491 each month. That's nearly $6,000 each year. According to a study published in the journal Pediatrics, the United States would save about $13 billion per year in medical costs if 90 percent of U.S. families breastfed their newborns for at least six months.
Common Questions About Breastfeeding
What's the best position for breastfeeding?
The best position is what feels most comfortable for both mother and baby. Some common positions are the cradle, the football, and the side-lying position.
Can any woman breastfeed? Are there any medical concerns?
Breastfeeding is usually very safe and natural for most post-natal women, but in a few situations, breastfeeding could cause harm. Do not breastfeed if:
- You’re HIV positive. (The virus can be passed to your infant through breast milk.)
- You’re receiving chemotherapy for cancer treatment.
- You’re using an illegal drug, such as cocaine.
- You’re taking certain prescription meds, such as some drugs for arthritis, migraines, Parkinson's disease, etc. Ask your doctor to be sure.
- Your baby has galactosemia (cannot tolerate the natural sugar, galactose, in breast milk.)
Why Some Women Choose Not To Breastfeed
- Privacy. Some women feel that this is a private act and don't want to breastfeed in public.
- Time-flexibility. Bottle feeding may be less frequent than breastfeeding, since babies tend to digest formula more slowly. Also, the time commitment, and being readily available for feedings every few hours of a newborn's life, isn't possible for every woman.
- Caregiver convenience. Some women prefer the ability of a father or another caregiver to bottle-feed the baby at any time without breastfeeding prep.
- Physical changes. Some women feel that breastfeeding will change the appearance of their breasts.
In an era of social media photos and blogging mamas, a lot of people make breastfeeding look easy. Sometimes, it’s anything but that. If you’re trying to or considering breastfeeding and you’re feeling discouraged, reach out to fellow parents. Most likely, they have some of the same questions (or even some great answers and tips) to help you out along the way.