By now everyone knows that breastfeeding is one way to make sure to get your baby off to the healthiest possible start in life. Studies have shown that breast milk helps babies build strong immune systems to avoid diseases and allergies, is linked to higher IQ later in life and aids in the bonding process between mother and baby.
What doesn’t get as much attention, though, are the many ways in which breastfeeding benefits new mothers. From immediate postpartum benefits to long-term disease protection, there are several ways in which breastfeeding supports women’s health overall:
Breastfeeding Raises Oxytocin Levels
Oxytocin is a powerful hormone linked to human bonding and connection, and it’s released in large doses in the mother’s body when she nurses her baby. In addition to promoting bonding with our baby, oxytocin causes the uterus to contract. These contractions shrink the uterus more quickly after childbirth, which in turn helps reduce bleeding and the potential for postpartum complications.
Oxytocin also helps regulate mood and reduce stress, which can help new mothers weather the learning curve of motherhood. Many breastfeeding mothers report feeling very relaxed while nursing, and oxytocin can also promote restful sleep – something in short supply in the first months of parenthood.
Breastfeeding Can Reduce the Risk for Type 2 Diabetes
A recent study in the Annals of Internal Medicine found that women who breastfed their babies for at least one month were 50 percent less likely to develop diabetes. The study followed more than 900 women who suffered from gestational diabetes, a form of hyperglycemia that develops during pregnancy and often leads to full-blown diabetes later in life.
This trend was reverse, though, for women who breastfed their babies, while those who exclusively used formula were more likely to develop diabetes. Because diabetes is associated with serious cardiovascular problems, loss of vision and kidney damage, this is great news for women who breastfed.
Breastfeeding Can Lower Your Risk for Breast Cancer
A meta-study published by the Annals of Oncology this fall revealed that women who breastfed their babies had a lower overall risk for developing breast cancer later in life. In particular, the study showed that breastfeeding protected women against certain types of breast cancer known as hormone receptor-negative cancers, which typically affect younger women and are more deadly than other cancers.
The study doesn’t explain why this happens, but researchers theorize that your breasts aren’t fully mature until lactation, and an immature breast is likely more susceptible to disease. Regardless of the mechanism behind the protection, the medical proof that breastfeeding supports women’s breast health is undeniable.
A Personal Choice
It’s hard to understand why some women are made to feel ashamed for their choice to breastfeed or not to breastfeed. Above all else, a caring mother is what is most important for a child’s development. If you choose to nurse your baby, you can rest assured that the benefits extend to your own body and mental well-being too. If you don’t, that’s cool too, and your bra selection will be way nicer. Nursing is a personal decision, and one that can lead to excellent outcomes for both of you.
Photo source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/aurimas_m/3467632119