By Jessica Sillers
Breastfeeding is great for mothers, as well as providing ideal nutrition for your baby. Do you know which breastfeeding benefits are bona fide, and which are more myth than fact? We’ve looked into the science behind the claims. Read on to learn why breastfeeding is great for you.
Lowered Risk of Cancer: Fact
One of the most amazing lifelong benefits of breastfeeding for moms is lowered risk of certain kinds of cancer. A study in the International Journal of Cancer found a 10% reduction in ovarian cancer risk for every 12 months of breastfeeding, and multiple studies have found a link between nursing and lowered rates of breast cancer.
Nursing affects your body in a few ways. Breastfeeding might break up visceral fat stores, the layer of fat that collects around your organs. This type of fat is extremely tough to shake via exercise and diet, and it can contribute to various health problems. Breastfeeding might be one of your best ways to reduce it. It’s also possible that infections like mastitis, unpleasant as they can be at the time, help produce antibodies that let your body fight more dangerous diseases later on.
Breastfeeding duration is key here. Researchers found these results when women breastfed for a total of 12-23 months. Sounds like a lot, but if you have two children and breastfeed each for the 6 months most health organizations recommend, you may set yourself up for lowered risk of breast and ovarian cancer for decades to come.
Easy Postpartum Weight Loss: Mostly Myth
Flip through magazines in the supermarket aisle, and you’re bound to encounter a story about another celebrity mom “bouncing back” to pre-pregnancy weight almost immediately after giving birth. Some doctors and lactation consultants tell new moms that breastfeeding will help them lose their pregnancy weight, too. Could breastfeeding really be the no-diet, no-exercise weight loss trick?
It is true that exclusively breastfeeding burns about 500 extra calories per day. But some mamas feel hungrier while nursing than they did when pregnant! Your diet affects your weight loss, which likely explains why studies on breastfeeding and weight loss tend to see mixed results.
One study on over 2,000 U.S. women found that exclusively breastfeeding for at least 3 months resulted in a roughly 3-lb greater loss by their baby’s first birthday than women who breastfed less or not at all. It would seem that a healthy, balanced diet and active lifestyle matter more on the scale than nursing.
Natural Birth Control: Mostly Fact
You’ll bleed for a few weeks after giving birth, but if you’re nursing exclusively, you may notice your period isn’t returning yet. What’s going on?
It turns out many women can use breastfeeding as birth control for a while after delivery! The Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) is comparable to birth control pills or condoms in terms of effectiveness, if you’re using the method right. LAM works best when:
- Your baby’s 6 months old or younger
- Your period hasn’t returned
- You’re nursing exclusively, both day and night
Your body may naturally hold off on restarting your cycle because you’re signaling it that you’re busy tending to a newborn. One important note to consider is you’ll ovulate before your first period, so keep an eye on changes in your body or your baby’s feeding pattern to avoid an “oops” sibling!
Bonding Boost: Fact
Bonding is one of the most frequently touted breastfeeding perks. Studies suggest that nursing can make a mother-baby bond even stronger, and might contribute to reduced behavior problems in young children.
Babies need food, clean clothes, a safe place to sleep, and lots of love. Breastfeeding encourages bonding by triggering your body to release hormones like oxytocin, and giving you plenty of time to snuggle your baby. One study found that actively bonding by talking to your baby during a feeding was linked with lower rates of behavior issues. Even if breastfeeding is tough, you can nurture a strong bond with lots of skin-to-skin time, talk, and touch.
Improved Heart Health: Maybe Myth
Breastfeeding is good for your heart in terms of loving feeling, but can it benefit heart muscle, too? Some studies say breastfeeding is associated with lowered rates of hypertension and calcification in major blood vessels.
Tread carefully interpreting these findings. Researchers try to control for lifestyle variables, but authors note that moms who choose to breastfeed may be more likely to make other healthy choices as well. A balanced diet, active lifestyle, and breastfeeding may all contribute toward cardiovascular health. It’s challenging to determine exactly how great a role breastfeeding plays by itself.
Other researchers found that while breastfeeding seemed to lower coronary heart disease risk, breastfeeding moms still had slightly higher rates of heart disease than women without children. Breastfeeding might offer partial protection, but plan to take care of your heart in other ways.
More Money in Your Wallet: Fact
While you can purchase any number of breastfeeding accessories, the only “equipment” you really need is yourself and your baby. Producing milk naturally is amazing, and can potentially save an impressive amount of money.
One website crunched the numbers and found that breastfeeding instead of formula feeding for 6 months could save about $430-$1,660, depending on formula brand. That’s enough to plan a babymoon vacation!
The key to saving money while breastfeeding is keeping track of how you spend. Let’s say you buy three nursing bras at $20 each, a $50 nursing pillow for comfort, and five $8 boxes of disposable nursing pads. Breastfeeding now cost you $150, even if the milk is free.
Lowered Risk of Postpartum Depression: Myth
Breastfeeding releases hormones like oxytocin in your body, which can result in a surge of warm, cuddly feelings. It sounds almost like breastfeeding would be a natural protection against depression. Researchers, however, don’t think it’s that simple.
Breastfeeding successfully may make some moms feel happier and more capable. Many new parents set a goal to nurse because they believe “breast is best.” If nursing is more challenging than expected, feeling like you’ve “failed” at breastfeeding could contribute toward baby blues or even postpartum depression. Breastfeeding isn’t an all-purpose protection against factors like stress, money worries, and mental health history than can affect postpartum depression, either.
A better plan? Don’t beat yourself up if breastfeeding is hard. You may still be able to supply your own milk for your baby. A qualified lactation consultant can help spot issues to solve. She may also recommend adding some pumping sessions to increase supply, or make feeding easier while you deal with tricky latch issues. Whether you feed with breast, bottle, or both, reach out for help if you’re struggling.
Every mom and baby are different, and we want to know your story! What breastfeeding benefits have you noticed in your life?
Ameda strives to present you with accurate and useful breastfeeding information. This article may contain information and ideas that are not necessarily the views of Ameda. It does not constitute medical advice. If you have any questions please contact your healthcare professional.