The benefits of breastfeeding for mom seem to be endless, yet two stand out above the rest as the most important reasons to breastfeed newborns: quick postpartum recovery and warding off cancer.
Speedy Post-Partum Recovery
Breastfeeding mothers lose weight quicker than those who do not. That is because it takes an average of 500 calories per day to produce an adequate supply of breast milk (1). According to the American Dietetics Association, breastfeeding mothers had a significantly "larger reduction in hip circumference," and had lost more pregnancy weight than those who did not breastfeed at the one month mark. Moreover, by the time that the infant is six months of age, close to seventy-five percent of mothers had returned to their pre-pregnancy weight (1).
Ward Off Breast Cancer
It is no secret that breastfeeding wards off ovarian cancer and other illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, but the amount of evidence that breastfeeding wards off breast cancer is insurmountable. In a study done on peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women, aged between 30 and 80, the risk of breast cancer was significantly reduced in women who had a long lifetime of lactation experience(3). Additionally, the researchers who conducted the study agreed that the lower levels of estrogen in these women may be the critical link that influences the risk of breast cancer (breastfeeding women do not have significant exposure to estrogen in comparison to their counterparts).
Advantages for Baby
While the benefits for mom are wonderful, the advantages of breastfeeding for the baby are more than remarkable. In comparison to formula fed babies, breastfed babies are further protected from illness and infection, have enhanced development, and are strongly connected to their parents.
Protected Against Illness and Infection
Babies who are breastfed develop stronger immune systems, therefore being prepared to fight off dangerous illnesses and infections. For example, children under the age of one had lower bouts of diarrhea during the months that they were breastfed in comparison to children that were not breastfed (1). Not only does breastfeeding help children develop resistance to common illnesses such as diarrhea and the flu, breastfed children have higher quantities of antibodies in their immune system. Therefore, babies that are breastfed are able to respond to bacteria and virus quicker than formula fed children (1).
In addition to having a stronger immune system to ward off illness and infections, a study reported that breastfeeding protected young infants against SIDS due to the well-developed respiratory and gastrointestinal systems(4). The reports demonstrate that breastfeeding sets children up for a better chance of fighting off diseases; it helps improve intelligence and social skills.
Enhances Intelligence and Social Development
Intelligence and social development are critical characteristics of a well-rounded child. While there is evidence showing that nurture has a significant influence on the social development and maturation of intelligence, there is quite a bit of evidence pointing toward breast milk as a major influence on higher IQs and well-socialized children. For example, a study reported in the Lancet claims that breastfed children had a significantly higher IQ than those who did not receive breast milk during infancy (even with differences in groups taken into account) (1).
In addition to intelligence, there is a clear difference in social development between breastfed and formula fed infants. The psychomotor and social skills of children at the age of one year old were advanced compared to formula fed babies...they were stronger with language and were able to distinguish certain social cues between children(1).
The advantages of breastfeeding for mother and baby are monumental and should not be taken lightly. Any mothers who can breastfeed should choose to do so to give their baby the running start to a healthy life, while giving mom the added bonuses (think no depression, losing weight quickly, and bonding with baby).