I’ve mentioned before that I think breastfeeding is THE most painful part about having a baby. Yet, I encourage all new parents to try, if they can afford the time to, and if necessary even seek help on how to do it effectively. Why?
Benefits for Baby
Breastmilk contains everything baby needs for the first 6 months of life, in all the right proportions. Its composition changes according to the baby’s developmental needs. For example, during the first days after birth, your breasts produce a thick and yellowish fluid called colostrum. It’s high in protein, low in sugar, and loaded with beneficial compounds, and is the ideal first milk as it helps the newborn’s immature digestive tract develop. After the first few days, the breasts start producing larger amounts of milk as the baby’s stomach grows. There are even differences in the milk produced by mothers if they are nursing newborn boys or girls, or raising their newborns in different climates. Breastmilk being produced for older toddlers also contain significantly more fat content than breastmilk being produced for newborns.
Breastmilk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. For example, one of the antibodies is immunoglobulin A (IgA), forms a protective layer in the baby’s nose, throat, and digestive system to do this. Breastfeeding also lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. They are also less likely to get constipated or suffer from diarrhoea.
There are many other benefits of breastmilk linked to potentially higher IQ, healthier weight gain, etc but I think those are secondary points which may be influenced by many other factors. More importantly, due to the collective benefits of breastmilk for babies, experts like World Health Organisation and countless other pediatric or nutrition agencies make statements to recommend infants be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life to achieve optimal growth, development and health, and for breastmilk to be offered to babies to continue beyond the first six months of life.
Benefits for Mother
When a mother’s body produces breastmilk, a hormone called oxytoxin is also released by her body. This encourages uterine contractions and reduces bleeding, helping the uterus return to its previous size. It is hence the fastest way to help a mother’s body heal from childbirth!
Protection Against Diseases
Mothers who breastfeed have a lower risk of breast, ovarian, uterine and endometrical cancers. Breastfeeding also protects against osteoporosis, and reduces the risk of rheumatoid arthritis, cardiovascular disease and hypertension.
Breastmilk production requires significant energy, and so some mothers have found that it helps a lot with weight loss. However, some mothers also experience increased appetite while breastfeeding and so may tend to eat more calories than the additional calories her body requires to produce breastmilk.
Benefits for Family
Savings on formula milk
Formula milk can cost quite a lot in Singapore, with prices ranging from $15-70 per 800-900g tin for newborn forumlas. Using the median price of around $45 per tin, and an average feeding of 800ml per day, this amounts to around $1,000 for the first 6 months of the baby’s life. If a mother is able to exclusively breastfeed during the first 6 months, even taking to account the cost of a breastpump and related accessories, there could be some savings. The longer the breastfeeding continues, the higher the savings.
If the baby latches well to mommy and you have a good routine going, a breastfed baby under 6 months is very easy to bring out since you do not need to pack any food or bottles for him/her, and mommy can even have her hands free while nursing in a suitable baby carrier. Even if you are an exclusive pumping mother, there are ways to bring out cold breastmilk which pack smaller than formula milk.
Soothing Illness and Quickening Recovery
The composition of breastmilk changes to react to the needs of your child, so if he/she catches any bugs, a mother’s bodies produces antibodies in the breastmilk to help fight the infection. For a child used to nursing, nursing is oftentimes the only way he/she will be willing to eat or drink when sick. Such children are hence much less likely to be hospitalized for dehydration during illnesses.
The hormone that allow a mother to produce milk, prolactin, may stop her from ovulating, and hence serve as a natural contraception. However, the Lactational Amenorrhea Method of birth control has several conditions which must be met to be effective, and is therefore difficult to be relied upon with confidence.
The list above is long, but to me, the biggest benefit of breastfeeding to the family, is the peace of mind that the baby is getting the best in nutrition.