The Benefits of Breastfeeding

By: Cynthia Skelly, M.D.

After having a baby, mothers are faced with many decisions. One of these decisions is whether or not to breastfeed your baby. Though America recently experienced a decline in breastfeeding, number are now on the rise as more mothers learn its many benefits.

Breastfeeding is incredibly beneficial and healthy for babies. Breast milk reduces the risk of infections in the gastrointestinal, urinary and respiratory tracts, lowers the rat of ear infections and protects against allergies, diabetes and later in life, obesity.

Other important medical findings regarding breastfeeding include:

  • Babies’ intelligence has been linked to being breastfed—those who were breastfed were smarter.
  • Higher pain relief and reduced stress levels have been found in breastfed babies.
  • Breastfeeding helps build stronger bones for babies.
  • Breast milk has high levels of good cholesterol in it, which is essential for proper growth and development.

Short and long-term benefits also exist for breastfeeding mothers. Breastfeeding increases production of oxytocin, a hormone that has a calming effect and helps produce milk. Nursing can also protect mothers from postpartum depression and massive postpartum bleeding and hemorrhaging. Furthermore, it can improve blood sugar control and raise good cholesterol, HDL, levels, which can reduce heart disease risks.

If a mother does decide to breastfeed, “latching on” to the nipple is something that she will need to help her baby to do in the beginning. When the baby has a good “latch,” mothers will avoid having sore nipples. To get the baby to latch correctly, mother should their nipple to their baby’s mouth, which will get the baby to open his or her mouth. After that happens, mothers should pull the baby to the breast and allow the nipple and at least one inch of the surrounding area to go into the baby’s mouth. Often mother make the mistake of giving the baby only the nipple, which doesn’t allow them to latch properly. Babies will make a low-pitched swallowing noise, not a smacking or sucking noise, if they have latched properly.

In the beginning it can take a few minutes for a mother’s milk to flow, but within a few days the process should go a lot fast. This “let down” reflex can cause some pain in the uterus, similar to menstrual cramps because of the oxytocin production. The pain is a sign that the uterus is starting to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy shape and size. If the pain does not lessen within a week, you should speak with your physician.

Breastfeeding is an important decision that most mothers go through during and after pregnancy. Many books, Web sites and classes are available about the subject. Your healthcare provider can also be a great resource to answer any questions.