By Wendy Wisner, IBCLC
Most of us have heard the phrase “Breast is Best” and many new mothers hope to breastfeed their babies, knowing that their breastmilk is the healthiest stuff on earth for their newborns. Breastfeeding is certainly about good nutrition – but it’s so much more! As a breastfeeding mom and Lactation Consultant, I see the benefits of breastfeeding before my eyes every day. I’m going to share with you some of my very favorites. This is only a selection, as there are simply too many to fit in the space of an article!
1. Clean, convenient, always the right temperature.
Unlike bottle feeding, breastfeeding leaves no mess to clean. Seriously, do new mothers need more dishes to wash? Breastmilk is always the right temperature for your baby, and is available immediately, wherever you are, no preparation required. Breastfeeding mothers certainly have lighter diaper bags!
2. Perfect nutrition.
Breastmilk provides the perfect balance of vitamins, minerals, proteins, fats, and calories, with no additives, emulsifiers, or anything less than natural. There is no need for any supplementary foods or drinks for the first six to nine months. Even after solids are introduced, breastmilk continues to be the perfect milk for a busy, often fussy toddler. Breastmilk continues to pack a nutritional punch for the whole time you breastfeed your child.
3. Teaches baby appetite regulation.
This is one of my most favorites. Your baby’s sucking (slow or fast, strong or soft) determines the amount of milk taken. Sometimes your baby will want a big meal and will suck vigorously, and sometimes he’ll only want a light snack. Breastmilk is digested quickly, so frequent, small meals are important for breastfed babies. Your baby will get in touch with her hunger, have control of her intake, and eat short, frequent meals spaced evenly throughout the day. This is the healthiest way for all of us to eat, and your baby will learn this from the start!
4. Chock full of immunities.
One of the main ways that breastmilk is superior to formula is that it contains live antibodies that are specific to your baby’s needs. As soon as you are exposed to a virus, your body produces antibodies to fight the virus – these antibodies are delivered to your baby via your breastmilk. Even if your baby gets the virus, he will have an easier time fighting it because he received immunities from you. This is true for the entire time you breastfeed your child. Researchers have only begun to tap the surface of the immunological protections in breastmilk.
5. The ultimate soother.
When you breastfeed, there is no need for binkies or lovies — sucking at the breast is the ultimate comfort. You will find your baby falls asleep easily after nursing, and is soothed by nursing any time she cries. Nursing requires physical closeness between mother and child: When your baby nurses, she smells you, hears your heartbeat, and is soothed by your voice and warmth as well as by your milk.
6. Good for baby’s oral development.
Breastfed babies who don’t use artificial nipples usually have perfectly aligned teeth, and have much less of a chance of needing orthodontic work down the line. Breastfeeding allows for proper spacing of teeth and palates. It also helps develop strong muscles around the mouth, jaw, and lips, as the baby has to use these muscle more skillfully than a bottle-fed baby does.
7. Brain building.
Breastmilk contains DHA (an Omega-3 fatty acid), as well as extra cholesterol and fats to help grow your little one’s brain. Not only that, but breastfed mothers tend to spend more time in direct eye contact with their babies, and babies learn about the world by interacting with their caregivers.
8. Good for the earth and your pocketbook.
Unlike formula feeding, breastfeeding does not require you to purchase anything, and nothing is wasted. No water is needed to prepare breastmilk, no sinks or dishwashers need to be used, no bottle needs to be purchased or thrown away.
9. Long-term disease protection.
Breastmilk doesn’t just protect your baby now, but has lifetime health benefits. Breastmilk lowers your baby’s chance of Crohn’s Disease, diabetes, breast and ovarian cancer (for girls), obesity, heart disease, multiple sclerosis, and more.
10. It’s great for mom too. Let’s not forget the many benefits of breastfeeding for mothers! I just listed a ton of ways that breastfeeding benefits babies, but breastfeeding is great for moms too. Every time a mom breastfeeds, oxytocin (often referred to as “the love hormone”) is released. A mother’s prolactin levels are also elevated during breastfeeding. Together, oxytocin and prolactin increase a mother’s feelings of relaxation and joy. This helps protect mothers against postpartum depression and other mood disorders while nursing. Breastfeeding also has long-term health benefits for mothers, decreasing their chances of breast, ovarian, and uterine cancer, diabetes, heart disease, osteoporosis, and arthritis.
So, there you have it! There are certainly more benefits of breastfeeding that could be added, and researchers will continue to uncover the “magic in the milk.” But the biggest benefits will always exist between mothers and babies, as they exchange love, comfort, and milk-drunk smiles with one another.
Wendy Wisner is a writer, board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC), and mother. She is the author of two books of poetry, and her poems, book reviews, and articles have appeared widely. Check out her website. This article was published in Natural Child Magazine.