Breastfeeding — Why It’s Good for Baby and Mom

Mother Nature has some pretty amazing ways to do her work. Plant pollination, nests for chicks, and kangaroo pouches are just a few examples of Mother Nature’s inventive ways to support and perpetuate different animal species.

Another is breastfeeding — Mother Nature’s (and a mother’s) way to nourish a baby.

A woman's choice to breastfeed, and for how long, is a personal one. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breast milk feeding for the first six months after birth. Solid foods can then be introduced to complement breast milk for the first year of life. Breastfeeding may continue for as long as mom and baby both desire.

New parents can make informed decisions about breastfeeding with guidance from a qualified health care provider such as a doctor or lactation specialist. Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLCs) are professionals who are specifically trained and licensed in breastfeeding medicine. They can help with any issues mom or baby may have with nursing.

Health Benefits of Breastfeeding

For moms who choose to breastfeed, their baby will receive nourishment that is nutritionally balanced and specifically designed to meet that infant's needs. Breast milk includes live cells, hormones and antibodies that help protect baby from germs and illness. This protection changes over time to meet your baby’s needs as he/she grows and develops.

Even though breastfeeding can help protect against many illnesses, it is still important for your baby to receive the vaccinations your health care professional recommends.

Studies show breastfeeding may lower your baby’s risk of:

  • Asthma
  • Childhood leukemia
  • Childhood obesity
  • Ear infections
  • Eczema
  • Diarrhea and vomiting
  • Lower respiratory infections
  • Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS)
  • Type 2 diabetes

The health benefits of breastfeeding aren’t limited to baby. The close physical contact and bonding is good for both mom and baby. Babies feel more secure and comforted through physical contact. Suckling boosts a mother’s level of Oxytocin — a hormone that stimulates the flow of breast milk, and is also known to be calming. Breastfeeding lowers mom’s risk for:

  • Postpartum bleeding
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Certain types of breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer

Practical Benefits of Breastfeeding

Aside from the health advantages, breastfeeding can make life with a newborn a bit easier. Consider the following:

  • You can meet your hungry baby’s needs more quickly. Breast milk is always warm and readily available.
  • There are no bottles and nipples to sterilize.
  • There is no formula to purchase or prepare.
  • Breast milk is easier to digest than formula (especially for premature infants)
  • The baby’s protection from illness may help reduce trips to the doctor and also reduce missed days at work.

A Bonus Benefit!

Research has found that women who breastfeed their babies lose pregnancy weight more quickly. This is because it takes calories to create breast milk. The key is to eat a healthy, balanced diet with enough energy to take care of both baby's and mom’s nutritional needs. Your health care provider can give you guidance on the right diet for you and your baby.

Breastfeeding can also delay the return of normal ovulation and menstrual cycles, and therefore, lower your chance of getting pregnant. However there is no guarantee that it will prevent pregnancy. Visit with your health care professional if you are interested in taking birth control while nursing as some forms of birth control can affect breast milk production.

Breastfeeding Cautions

Moms should be aware of some guidance they’ll need to follow while nursing.

Moms who are smokers should quit if at all possible and avoid exposing baby to second-hand smoke. It is best for both mom and baby. Alcohol consumption should be avoided during pregnancy. It should be limited while breastfeeding. If alcohol is consumed, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends waiting two or more hours before breastfeeding. A mother may also hand express or pump breast milk to have on hand to feed the baby if necessary.

Any drugs taken (including vitamins, supplements, over-the-counter medications or prescriptions — especially opiates) should be taken under the close supervision of a health care professional. This is important because most medications and supplements will pass, in small quantities, to your baby through the breast milk. Do not use illegal drugs such as cocaine, heroin or PCP. They can severely harm your baby and cause symptoms such as seizures, vomiting, poor feeding and tremors, among other things.

Creating a New Normal

Having a baby will change your life. Your new normal will include bonding and building a marvelous relationship with a new member of your family. Breastfeeding is a wonderfully close and natural way to build this special relationship.

However, for some parents adjusting to a new baby can be a bit overwhelming. If a new mother feels anxious, sad, has loss of appetite, or has feelings of guilt or irritability, she should contact her health care professional. These could be signs of postpartum depression. This is a common and treatable condition. Know that postpartum depression can affect new fathers, too.

See your health care professional if you have any questions about adjusting to your new normal. Your health is just as important as baby’s!

Meet the Author

Stephanie J. Slock, MD is a board-certified pediatrician and an Internationally Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Aurora Health Center in St. Francis, WI.

Read more posts from this author

The information presented in this site is intended for general information and educational purposes. It is not intended to replace the advice of your own physician. Contact your physician if you believe you have a health problem.

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