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Benefits of breastfeeding for mothers

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Breast milk is regarded as the infant’s only source of nutrition for the first 6 months of life. Complementary foods are added to the infant’s diet at 6 months of age. It is usually recommended that breastfeeding should be continued up to two years of age and beyond that.1

Breastfeeding has potential benefits both for the mother and the baby. For the infant, breast milk provides the best nutrition, immune protection, and regulates growth, development, and metabolism.1 Breastfeeding prevents infections in the infant, seems to decrease the rates of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) in the first year of life, decreases the incidence of allergies, decreases the risk of obesity and malignant disease in the baby and enhances neurodevelopmental outcomes.2

There is enough evidence to suggest that breastfeeding women are likely to have improved health in the short-term, and have lower odds of developing future diseases. Breastfeeding confers both immediate, i.e. short-term, and long-term benefits to mothers.1

Benefits of breastfeeding to the mother:1,2

  1. Reduction of maternal bleeding after delivery
  2. Rapid involution of uterus
  3. Positive metabolic changes
  4. Promotes postpartum weight loss
  5. Reduction of stress
  6. Delays ovulation
  7. Increased child spacing owing to lactational amenorrhea

If a woman continues to breastfeed, it may confer the following benefits:

  1. Increased postpartum weight loss
  2. Prolonged lactational amenorrhea
  3. Decreased visceral adiposity
  4. Reduced risks of type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, breast cancer, and ovarian cancer.

Breastfeeding stimulates the release of oxytocin, thus stimulating uterine contractions and reducing the risk of hemorrhage.3 Breastfeeding may also improve bone mineralization, resulting in reduced risk of osteoporosis. It may also protect against rheumatoid arthritis. Breastfeeding has also been linked with prevention of or limiting the duration of post-natal depression in mothers.3

Evidence indicates that greater intensity (exclusivity) and duration of breastfeeding are associated with greater weight loss at 6 and 18 months postpartum in women of all BMI categories.4 Exclusive breastfeeding naturally suppresses ovulation, thereby acting as a natural birth control. However, it must be used with caution.1

Another significant benefit of breastfeeding is that it facilitates mother-infant bonding. Additionally, bonding is often reported as a reason for breastfeeding by women.1 Breastfeeding mothers have shown higher brain responses to their own infants’ cry and exhibited more sensitive behavior than formula-feeding mothers in a study.5

Breastfeeding is associated with positive metabolic changes. The favorable metabolic changes in lactation continue after weaning, thus yielding long-term reduction in chronic disease risk among women who have breastfed.1

Pregnancy is an insulin-resistant as well as hyperlipidemic state and is associated with metabolic changes that can cause gestational diabetes, and may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes later in life. Lactation, on the other hand, is associated with improved insulin-sensitivity.1 Increasing duration of lactation has been shown to be associated with a reduced risk of type 2 diabetes.6 Breastfeeding also exerts favorable effects on maternal blood lipid levels. A study revealed that among postmenopausal women, increased duration of lactation was linked with a lower prevalence of hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular disease. Women with a single live birth who breast-fed for 7-12 months had lesser odds of developing cardiovascular disease than women who never breast-fed.7

Breastfeeding has also been linked with a reduced risk of certain cancers. A meta-analysis revealed that fewer parous women with breast cancer had ever breastfed (71% vs. 79%) as compared to parous controls, and their average lifetime duration of breastfeeding was also shorter. Thus it could be stated that the longer women breast feed the more they are protected against breast cancer.8 Breastfeeding could protect against both pre-menopausal and post-menopausal breast cancer.3

Considering the innumerable short- and long-term benefits of breastfeeding on maternal health, women should be encouraged to breastfeed their babies for their baby’s as well as their own well-being.

References

  1. Dieterich CM, Felice JP, O’Sullivan E, Rasmussen KM. Breastfeeding and Health Outcomes for the Mother-Infant Dyad. Pediatr Clin North Am. 2013 Feb; 60(1): 31–48.
  2. Anatolitou F. Human milk benefits and breastfeeding. Journal of Pediatric and Neonatal Individualized Medicine 2012;1(1):11-18.
  3. The health and economic benefits of breastfeeding. Available from: http___www.aphref.aph.gov.au_house_committee_haa_breastfeeding_report_chapter3%20.pdf.
  4. Baker JL, Gamborg M, Heitmann BL, et al. Breastfeeding reduces postpartum weight retention. Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Dec;88(6):1543-51.
  5. Kim P, Feldman R, Mayes LC, et al. Breastfeeding, brain activation to own infant cry, and maternal sensitivity. J Child Psychol Psychiatry. 2011 Aug;52(8):907-15.
  6. Stuebe AM, Rich-Edwards JW, Willett WC, et al. Duration of lactation and incidence of type 2 diabetes. JAMA. 2005 Nov 23;294(20):2601-10.]
  7. Schwarz EB, Ray RM, Stuebe AM, et al. Duration of lactation and risk factors for maternal cardiovascular disease. Obstet Gynecol. 2009 May;113(5):974-82.
  8. Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50302 women with breast cancer and 96973 women without the disease. Lancet. 2002 Jul 20;360(9328):187-95.
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