Breastfeeding speeds up the body’s recovery after pregnancy, e.g., it supports the contraction of the uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size. Moms who breastfeed drop the baby weight faster, as this simple act can consume up to 500 kcal per day.
When it comes to breastfeeding, you’re either for it or against it. Many moms-to-be look forward to bonding with their babies through breastfeeding, but others perceive this action as a disempowering and not-so-feminist gesture.
Regardless of your personal position, breastfeeding has been proven to benefit both the mother and the baby. Given its numerous positive effects, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding during the first semester after birth, so as to provide the baby with all the nutrients needed in the first months of life. However, it’s not only the nutritional value of breast milk that makes breastfeeding the optimum way to begin a baby’s life outside the womb.
BREASTFEEDING BENEFITS EXTEND BEYOND NUTRITION
In addition to ensuring the proper amount of vitamins and minerals for the newborn and supporting healthy development, breastfeeding also strengthens the baby’s immune system, protecting against a wide range of illnesses. Babies who are fed with breast milk are less likely to be affected by respiratory or ear infections, or to develop meningitis in their early lives compared to those fed on formula or solid food.
Immunoglobulin A (IgA), a substance present in breast milk, is known to protect the infant’s intestines, throat and nose against germs, and has an anti-allergic effect, protecting the baby against inflammation of the intestines. Certain proteins found in cow’s milk and food can be harmful for a newborn’s delicate digestive system and can pass through the gut undigested, causing leakage. Fortunately, breast milk is perfectly formulated to prevent such issues, its components forming a protective layer in the digestive tract and keeping away allergic reactions.
According to studies, babies who are breastfed are less likely to develop Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis, diabetes types 1 and 2, inflammatory bowel disease and high cholesterol levels, and they have a 20% lower risk of dying before the age of one year, compared to those who are fed formula or solid foods in the first months of life.
Besides the protective effects of breast milk, mother’s milk also supports cognitive development—studies show that children who were breastfed score higher in vocabulary tests at 5 years of age. The consumption of breast milk also helps to keep insulin production within normal limits, as it contains the proper amounts of sugars, therefore ensuring a healthier appetite and weight. Children fed with formula early after birth are more likely to gain excessive weight and to suffer from appetite regulation problems.
Contrary to what some parents think, breast milk and formulas do not have the same composition. Formula doesn’t provide the baby with the enzymes, hormones and antibodies that are much needed to protect against illnesses.
FASTER RECOVERY, BETTER MOOD, EASIER WEIGHT LOSS
Some of the main issues women face after giving birth include the baby blues, changes in body weight and composition, and low energy levels with increased tiredness.
Studies show that breastfeeding can help with some of these issues, particularly showing that women who breastfeed are at a lower risk of postpartum depression. Breastfeeding promotes the release of oxytocin, the happiness or bonding hormone, which helps the mother relax and bond with her baby. During pregnancy, the production of estrogen is greater than pre-pregnancy, but after giving birth estrogen levels drop significantly, one of the culprits behind postpartum depression. Breastfeeding and the resulting higher levels of oxytocin help balance hormone levels and make the baby blues more tolerable.
Moreover, breastfeeding delays the return of menstrual periods, allowing the new mother to fully recover before her cycle returns. Finally, breastfeeding consumes about 500 kcal per day, so it’s one of the most practical ways to shed some of the baby weight after giving birth.
By Andreea Macoveiciuc