Natural breast milk provides a number of significant health benefits for children, including fewer incidences of asthma, an overall decrease in the rates of childhood obesity and improved brain development. Breastfeeding helps children to develop stronger immune systems, while nurturing the natural bond between mother and child. The childhood benefits of breastfeeding are well documented, and more new mothers are taking this all natural approach to child rearing every year. What many may not realize, however, is that breastfeeding also offers distinct benefits for the mother. By breastfeeding, women are allowing their bodies to pursue the natural path to optimal health, both immediately following childbirth and for years to come.
Short Term Benefits of Breastfeeding
Immediately following childbirth women have an increased risk of postpartum hemorrhaging, but mothers who breastfeed can reduce that risk significantly. The natural suckling process causes the mother’s pituitary gland to release oxytocin, a hormone which signals the breasts to release milk for the baby. Oxytocin also initiates contractions in the uterus, which prevent postpartum hemorrhaging and begin the process of returning the woman’s uterus to a non-pregnant state. Bottle feeding mothers may receive synthetic oxytocin while in the hospital, but following their release they may be prone to an otherwise avoidable postpartum hemorrhage.
Breastfeeding also has a natural effect on a woman’s fertility, acting as a contraceptive to reduce the risk of pregnancy in the first six months or more following childbirth. This is the body’s way of ensuring the healthy recovery of the mother following childbirth, and of spacing out potential pregnancies. By breastfeeding, women also delay the return of the menstrual cycle, thereby reducing the risks of iron deficient anemia that can be common to new mothers.
The Long Term Benefits of Breastfeeding
Recent studies have shown that breastfeeding provides women with a number of long lasting health benefits. Remember, breastfeeding is a natural process and in many ways a mother’s body depends upon it to maintain optimal health. One of the biggest advantages of breastfeeding is that it helps women to lose the weight they’ve gained during pregnancy. The production of milk burns up to 500 calories per day. To put it in perspective, a new mother would require a full hour of active exercise to achieve the same result. By losing their ‘baby-weight’ quickly and naturally, new mothers can help to reduce their risk of developing type 2 diabetes. This natural weight loss, coupled with low cholesterol and improved blood sugar levels, can also help women to avoid the early onset of heart disease.
One of the other major benefits of breastfeeding seems to be a reduced risk for certain reproductive cancers. Studies of non-breastfeeding women have indicated a greater potential for the development of ovarian and uterine cancers. Researchers believe this is due in part to the increased levels of estrogen found in mothers who did not breastfeed, as well as the greater repetition of ovulatory cycles. The most recent research into the correlation between breastfeeding and cancer has indicated that women who breastfed 6 to 24 months throughout their reproductive lifetime reduced their risk of cancer by up to 25%.
Breastfeeding and Osteoporosis
One of the major health risks for all women is osteoporosis. Women lose calcium while lactating, and it has long been thought that breastfeeding might increase a woman’s risk for osteoporosis. However, recent research has indicated quite the opposite. It appears that as children are weaned off of breast milk, the mother’s bone density returns to pre-pregnancy levels. Studies suggest that mothers who breastfeed their children actually reduce their risk for developing osteoporosis later in life.
Breastfeeding offers more than just physical benefits to the mother and child. It helps to build a natural bond between parent and infant, and promotes an overriding sense of calm in both. Breastfeeding is as natural as the reproductive process itself, and new mothers who choose to breastfeed are making the healthy choice for their children, and for themselves.