We know that breastfeeding is great for babies, but it is also intimately linked to a mother’s health. A mother’s body has a subtle, intricate way of connecting with her baby through the connection of breastfeeding, and this interplay of biological signals that are important for breastmilk production, can create positive effects in the mother’s health as well. Many moms might be surprised to hear that breastfeeding is “good” for them – after all, it does not always feel that way. The discomfort of sore nipples or exhaustion due to lack of sleep certainly do not seem to be contributing to the mother’s well-being. But if you look at some of the latest research, the evidence suggests that moms are benefiting from breastfeeding in many ways that she may not even be aware of.
Up until now, the measurement of how breastfeeding affects the mom has focused on the positive short-term psychological bonding with baby. And this is important. After all, there is no way to measure the health impact of the unconditional love given by a child. For many moms, hormones produced during breastfeeding create a “feel good” state of mind, but this can be hard to measure, and short lived.
Recently research that has taken place over a period of years with large groups of women, is reporting that breastfeeding delivers long-term benefits for the mother’s health. Besides giving a baby nourishment, boosting their immune system and protecting them from becoming sick, there are several ways that breastfeeding can protect a mother’s health as well. These benefits are being examined from both the short and long-term perspectives. Here are a few of the ways that breastfeeding can help improve a mother’s health:
Helps with Weight Loss
An article in Scientific American says that producing milk for a single infant requires about 480 extra calories a day. Many women who breastfed their babies said that breastfeeding helped them get back to their pre-pregnancy weight more quickly, but experts are still looking at the effects of breastfeeding on weight loss. In the end, breastfeeding reduces the risk for long-term obesity – a study cited by UNICEF has found that middle-aged mothers who breastfed had lower BMIs (Body Mass Index) than mothers who did not breastfeed.
Promotes Emotional Well Being
Many breastfeeding moms say that they have greater peace of mind while breastfeeding, because they know they are giving their baby the best nourishment and the best chance for optimal development. Breastfeeding has many emotional benefits, because it provides a unique interaction between mother and child, an automatic, skin-to-skin closeness and nurturing. Breastfeeding can also reduce a mother’s risk of depression. A study from the University of Cambridge found that mothers who were planning to breastfeed saw a 50 percent reduction in their risk of postnatal depression once they started breastfeeding.
Impacts Health Conditions
Breastfeeding can be a long-term preventative health measure for moms. Not breastfeeding after giving birth seems to put women at higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and many other serious health conditions. According to research cited in Scientific American, breastfeeding should really be thought of as the “fourth trimester” of pregnancy – it’s so natural and biologically “expected” for mother’s bodies to breastfeed, that in case something happens which prevents them from breastfeeding, it tends to throw their whole system out of alignment, leading to higher risks for serious health problems.
Reduces Risk of Cancer
Research cited in Scientific American has also found that breastfeeding can reduce mothers’ risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer – and the reason might be related to the ways that women’s estrogen levels are lower during breastfeeding. For every 12 months of breastfeeding, a mother’s risk of breast cancer decreases by 4.3 percent. Breastfeeding can even reduce the risk of breast cancer for women with a family history of the disease. Alison Stuebe, a professor in the Division of Maternal Fetal Medicine at the University of North Carolina, was quoted as saying that even for women whose mother or sister had had breast cancer, “moms who had breastfed at all had about 60 percent less risk…that’s a pretty significant statistic.”
Supports Heart Health
Breastfeeding can help women have better cardiovascular health, even much later in life. A study of postmenopausal women cited by Scientific American found that women who breastfed for more than 12 months were 10 percent less likely to develop cardiovascular disease than women who did not breastfeed.
What do you think about the health benefits of breastfeeding? Have you heard about or read about any other special benefits to the mother’s health? Leave a comment and let us know, or join the discussion on the Medela Canada Facebook page.