During the month of August, we recognize National Breastfeeding Month, a time in which we celebrate the amazing benefits of breastfeeding as well as educate people on how they can support the women in their lives who are breastfeeding their infants.
While breastfeeding is one of the most natural things in the world, nursing difficulties, work schedules, societal pressures, and a lack of support often prevent women from doing what is best for their child. These struggles can weigh heavily on women, which is why now is a great time to learn how you can best support those you love.
Why is this so important? There are many reasons…
According to thousanddays.org, “Breastfeeding saves lives by protecting babies from life-threatening infections and illnesses. If babies were breastfed early and exclusively for the first 6 months, over 820,000 lives could be saved each year!”
Not to mention, breastfeeding has many advantages for mom as well. Let’s take a deeper look at the benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby, and then I’ll share a few ways you can help encourage and support the women who are breastfeeding in your life.
How Babies Benefit from Breastfeeding
There are three key beneficial areas when it comes to nursing a newborn. Here’s how breastfed babies benefit…
Formula recipes have come a long way in the last 100 years. However, nothing comes close to the natural milk a woman’s body produces.
Breast milk is fortified with all the nutrients your baby needs to thrive. More importantly, it doesn’t contain extra fillers and additives that can cause your baby to experience excess gas, colic, and other digestional issues.
Of course any baby (whether they are breastfed or formula-fed) can struggle with tummy troubles. However, breast milk has proven time and time again to be easier to digest.
Tip: To really ensure both you and your baby are getting the best nutrition, continue to take your prenatal vitamin while breastfeeding!
Superior Immune Health
Breast milk is loaded with your body’s natural antibodies that are essential in fighting off viruses and bacteria.
This is exactly why breastfed babies often suffer less from ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and digestive problems. Knowing this is incredibly important as babies have very weak immune systems for the first 6+ months of their lives.
While feeding breast milk can’t guarantee that your baby will never get sick, it will give your baby the best fighting chance against dangerous germs–especially during cold and flu season!
Finally, physical bonding is a major benefit of breastfeeding.
Through eye contact and skin-to-skin closeness, a baby often feels more comfortable and secure while breastfeeding. Not to mention, chemicals released while breastfeeding–such as oxytocin–naturally stimulate sleepiness which can help a baby settle down and sleep longer stretches.
Overall, the hormones released while breastfeeding can help establish a sense of trust and a bond that will last far beyond a child’s breastfeeding days.
Note: This is also a major benefit for mom!
How a Women Benefits from Breastfeeding
When it comes to breastfeeding we often focus on the benefits of the baby. What you might not know is that breastfeeding also carries many benefits for mom as well. Here are a few important benefits you should be aware of…
Reduced Risk of Developing Breast or Ovarian Cancer
Shockingly, breastfeeding a baby for at least 6 months can help reduce a mother’s risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
It mainly has to do with hormonal fluctuations. When a woman is lactating, hormonal changes often delay menstrual periods which reduce the amount of time the woman is exposed to the hormone estrogen. A reduction in estrogen reduces the chance that breast cancer and ovarian cancer cells will grow.
During pregnancy, women gain extra weight. While it’s recommended that most women shouldn’t gain over 30 pounds, many ladies find themselves packing on much more weight than that!
The good news is that breastfeeding burns a lot of calories and can quickly help women shed that unwanted baby weight.
It’s unlikely that most moms are going to find themselves at the gym just a few weeks after giving birth. This makes breastfeeding an ideal opportunity to provide your baby with the best nutrition while burning extra calories!
Between excess laundry, constant diaper changes, and all-night feedings, the last thing a mom wants is more chores stacked up on her plate.
Sure, breastfeeding is a lot of work. But heating up formula at 2 am, handwashing bottles, and having to get up to prepare your baby’s milk every 2-3 hours is a real pain–especially as mom recovers and might not be feeling her best.
Breast milk is convenient as it’s always available, always at the right temperature, and doesn’t require the use of bottles which simply create more mess in the kitchen. Whether it be during the day or in the middle of the night, mom can quickly grab her hungry baby, nurse, and put her baby back down without any extra steps involved.
How You Can Support a Breastfeeding Mother
Not everyone’s breastfeeding journey is easy. In fact, even moms with “easy” baby’s struggle, especially during the first few weeks of learning how to breastfeed.
This is where your support is needed. If you’re not sure how to help, here are a few ways you can support a breastfeeding mom in your life…
- Pick up extra chores around the house. Newborns need to eat around every 2-3 hours per day. This means mom is going to be spending a lot of time feeding her baby instead of working on household chores. Do an extra load of laundry, clean the kitchen, walk the dog, etc. This allows mom the time she needs to feed her baby without the pressure of needing to get everything done.
- Encourage mom. Breastfeeding isn’t an easy task and it can quickly become draining. A few words of encouragement such as “You’re doing such a great job” can mean the world. Offer words of encouragement.
- Do your research. The more you learn about breastfeeding the easier it is for you to understand what your partner/family member/friend is going through.
- Split the baby duties. Mom shouldn’t be the one in charge of all of the baby’s care. If your partner is breastfeeding, sign yourself up for diaper duty…or whatever baby duties your partner needs help with.
- Prepare snacks and drinks. Breastfeeding moms need to consume enough water and calories in order to produce enough breast milk. While your partner is breastfeeding, prepare her a healthy snack and a drink!
- Be an advocate for nursing moms. It’s important that you stand up for your partner, especially when people on the outside are making it difficult for mom to breastfeed. Don’t just stand by the wayside. Speak up when someone says something rude about breastfeeding in public. Or, back your partner when a friend or family member tries to give unsolicited advice that contradicts your desire to breastfeed.
A Quick Word for Moms Who are Struggling to Breastfeed
As a physician, I truly believe that breastfeeding is best for both mom and baby. That being said, nothing I shared today was intended to discourage or shame moms who are struggling to breastfeed that have turned to alternative options.
At the end of the day, a fed baby is best, period! As long as you are putting in the work and research to ensure your baby is taken care of you’re doing an amazing job.
If you’re struggling to breastfeed but don’t want to forgo the benefits of breastmilk, here are a few options that might help you…
- Team up with a lactation consultant. Lactation consultants are specially trained to help moms and babies learn how to breastfeed. Sometimes a simple adjustment is all that’s needed to make your breastfeeding experience so much better.
- Opt for donor breast milk. Some women are over suppliers of breast milk and generously donate their extra milk to babies in need. If you want to give your baby all the benefits of breastmilk, ask your pediatrician about where you can locate donor breast milk.
- Pump and bottle feed. Breast milk from a bottle is just as good as breast milk from a breast. If factors like breast pain or working full time are preventing you from using breast milk, pump and bottle feed your baby. Most insurances will cover a pump at zero expense to you!
Best wishes to new moms and their support systems as you continue your breastfeeding journey!