While most new and expecting mothers may know that breastfeeding has many benefits for babies, they may not understand just how many ways that breastfeeding helps women. A woman who nurses her baby is not only providing her child with the best possible chance at lifelong good health, she’s ensuring her own health as well. Research shows that women who choose to breastfeed will actually reduce their risk for quite a few illnesses and diseases.
Cancer Risk Reduction
Women who breastfeed their babies reduce their lifetime risk for breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers. In fact, this risk is further lessened by extended breastfeeding. Breastfeeding’s protection from cancer is thought to be related to the hormone balance that exists in lactating mothers. Estrogen is at lower than normal levels in a woman’s body during breastfeeding, and this brief reduction in high estrogen levels can help to protect women from cancers that are believed to be linked to hormones. Babies who are breastfed also benefit from reduced cancer risk.
Lowered Risk of Post-Partum Depression and Anxiety
When compared to mothers who supplement or exclusively feed their babies formula, breastfeeding mothers actually get more sleep and exhibit less post-partum anxiety. Breastfed babies are best fed on-demand (which means that the baby eats whenever they are hungry). Mothers who nurse their babies on-demand tend to fall into healthier sleeping/feeding patterns with babies who are less fussy because they have fewer digestive problems than babies who are fed formula. One of the major hormones associated with the lactation process is oxytocin, which acts as a catalyst to mammary gland activity. Oxytocin also promotes a sense of calmness, and is responsible for many of the pleasant feelings in close relationships, such as the mother and child bond. Oxytocin is released from the mother’s pituitary gland in response to a baby’s suckling, and it helps to calm and relax both mother and baby, as well as stimulate the milk-producing function of the mother’s mammary glands.
Healthier, Mobilized Metabolism
Breastfeeding mothers have an easier time returning to their pre-pregnancy weight than women who don’t nurse their babies. On average, lactation burns at least 500 calories per day, sometimes more if a baby is nursing frequently. Women who do not breastfeed do not experience this automatic calorie consumption, and are more likely to have a wider hip circumference and lowered weight loss potential after delivery. Most importantly, women’s bodies tend to manage visceral fat better during breastfeeding. Visceral adipose tissue is fat that piles up and grows around abdominal organs, and is a major factor in heart disease. Women develop more visceral fat during pregnancy when the abdominal cavity is somewhat “rearranged” to accommodate the expansion of the uterus. Women who don’t breastfeed are at a significantly higher risk of visceral fat deposits than women who do, which can increase risk of cardiovascular disease. Much like the reduction of cancer risk that comes with breastfeeding, extended breastfeeding (beyond six months) continues to reduce visceral fat the longer that a woman nurses her baby.
Breastfeeding is a natural way that the body can quicken its metabolism and burn excess fat. For this reason, it also greatly lessens a woman’s risk for diabetes. Even in cases of women who have developed gestational diabetes during pregnancy, the high risk of developing diabetes after childbirth is very much reduced by breastfeeding.
Less Confusion About Baby’s Nutrition
When a woman chooses formula feeding, she opens herself and her baby up to a wide variety of problems that can be hard to identify and correct. Formula is intended to be a substitute source of nutrition to breast milk, and as such, is sub-optimal by comparison. Infant formula contains ingredients that a new baby’s digestive system isn’t ready to handle yet, so if they are going to be fed formula, they must physically adjust to it. The process of adjusting to formula can be uncomfortable, resulting in gas, colic, constipation, and at times may lead to allergies and intolerances to formula components. Should a baby present an allergy or intolerance to formula, the mother may find herself going back and forth to the pediatrician’s office, switching formulas and trying to root out the cause of her child’s digestive problems.
When a woman breastfeeds, she knows exactly what her baby is eating. If a breastfed baby begins experiencing a lot of gas, then the mother can simply evaluate her own diet to eliminate foods that may be causing it. A breastfeeding mother has the advantage of not having to worry about whether her baby is allergic to what it’s eating. A fussy baby and the inevitable lack of sleep can only exacerbate any depression or anxiety a new mother may experience, so reduction of additional sources of stress can only be a good thing.
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