Why Breastfeeding Benefits Both Mother and Baby

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breastfeeding baby

Breastfeeding is a personal decision for mothers and if this is you, it's important you have the best information to make an informed decision on how you want to feed your baby. Regardless of your choice, you should be supported and educated.

However, if you decide to breastfeed, you and your baby could reap some important health benefits.

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and the World Health Organization recommend exclusive breastfeeding for at least six months, which means only breast milk during that time. After six months, the recommendation is to continue to breastfeed with complementary food for a year or longer if the mother and child desire.

Breast milk is tailor-made to meet the infant’s needs. It is considered to be the best source for infant nutrition. Breast milk contains carbohydrates, proteins, fat, vitamins, minerals, digestive enzymes, hormones, immune cells, stem cells and a variety of bioactive molecules, which protects the infant’s gastrointestinal tract, enhances the immune system and aids in brain development. Along with the numerous anti-inflammatory factors and anti-infective properties, breast milk is easier than formula for infants to digest.

Benefits for Babies and Mothers

Large amounts of data from various studies show the health benefits of breastfeeding for infants and children. Exclusively breast-fed infants have:

  • Fewer hospitalizations and childhood illnesses and diseases
  • Reduced risk of childhood leukemia, lymphoma, asthma, obesity and Type 2 diabetes
  • Decreased risk of gastrointestinal, ear and respiratory infections
  • A lesser chance of developing celiac disease, inflammatory bowel disease, and allergic diseases such as food allergies and atopic dermatitis
  • Lower risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome and the morbidity/mortality rate from infectious diseases
  • Increased intelligence and neurodevelopment.

Breastfeeding has many short- and long-term benefits for the mother as well. Breastfeeding:

  • Burns an additional 500 calories a day, which makes it easier for mothers to lose weight
  • Can decrease postpartum bleeding and promote maternal bonding
  • Decreases a mother’s risk of hypertension, Type 2 diabetes, certain types of breast cancers, and ovarian cancer.

There are also economic benefits associated with breastfeeding.

  • Families can save more than $1,200 in formula costs in the first year alone by choosing to breastfeed.
  • Studies have shown that breastfeeding working mothers take less sick days to care for their breast-fed infant and have higher productivity rates.
  • Healthcare costs for breastfed infants are significantly lower. According to the CDC, the United States would save $3 billion a year in healthcare costs if breastfeeding rates increased.

Tips for Successful Breastfeeding

  1. Attend childbirth/breastfeeding classes to learn about breastfeeding before the infant arrives. Talk to your physician about any questions you may have.
  2. Feed your baby within the first hour of life and remain skin-to-skin with the infant until after the breastfeeding.
  3. Have your baby to stay in your room 24/7 with you and follow your baby's feeding cues to determine when to nurse.
  4. Do not put a time limit on how often your newborn breastfeeds. Breastfed infants nurse from eight to 12 times a day.
  5. Practice skin-to-skin contact as much as possible. Skin-to-skin contact promotes breastfeeding.
  6. Seek help if you run into any difficulty with breastfeeding. UH Samaritan Medical Center has lactation staff available to support breastfeeding mothers /infants.Outpatient consults are available as needed.
  7. Avoid giving your baby pacifiers/bottles for at least four weeks until breastfeeding is established.
  8. Do not supplement with formula unless your doctor advises you to do so.
  9. Join a breastfeeding support group in your community. UH Samaritan Medical Center has a monthly breastfeeding support group the second Monday of every month.You do not need to register and there is no cost to attend.

Supporting mothers in their breastfeeding journey is essential. Family and friends should support and encourage breastfeeding mothers. Employers and businesses should provide clean places for mothers to breastfeed and help promote breastfeeding in the community. Community members all have a role in supporting breastfeeding mothers.

Shannon Graves, RNC-OB, is a nurse manager with University Hospitals Samaritan Medical Center.

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