DOCTOR IS IN: What are the benefits of breastfeeding to mom?

By Ruth Simmons, RNC, and Melissa Kottke, MD

Most experts agree that breast milk is the optimal source of nutrition for your baby’s health. What women don’t always hear about is the benefits of breastfeeding for mom.

This month, the medical journal Obstetrics & Gynecology reported a lower prevalence of cardiovascular disease and risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high blood pressure, diabetes and high cholesterol in postmenopausal women who had breastfed their babies. In addition, breastfeeding is linked to a lower risk of health problems such as breast cancer, ovarian cancer and osteoporosis.

Other benefits of breastfeeding to mothers that are more immediate are the healing after-effects breastfeeding brings on following birth. These include helping restore the uterus to its original size by inducing uterine contractions and decreasing postpartum blood loss. Breastfeeding provides intimate bonding experiences (skin-to-skin contact) and a time for mom to relax with child. Physical contact is important to newborns and can help them feel more secure, warm and comforted; this may have a positive effect on mothers, as well.

One big advantage is that breastfeeding can help moms lose pregnancy weight after childbirth. Production of milk is an active metabolic process, requiring the up to 500 extra calories per day, on average.

Finally, convenience is a factor. Breast milk is always warm, ready for use and in perfect proportion for what your baby needs. And there are no bottles to be washed or prepared. The expense is much lower, too, as the cost of formula can be about $1,000 a year. A breastfed baby that is also in childcare will be healthier, causing parents who are employed outside the home to miss fewer days from work and lose less income.

According to this recent study, as few as six months of breastfeeding improved heart health for women, but the longer the women breastfed, the more benefit they received. Data used in the study was collected from the Women’s Health Initiative that included nearly 140,000 postmenopausal women ages 50-79.

For promotion of babies’ health, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends breastfeeding for the first 12 months of life; this study shows that 12-month recommended duration also benefits moms. Indeed, there appears to be a “dose-dependent” relationship, with increased number of months in a woman’s lifetime spent breastfeeding, a reduced likelihood of developing cardiovascular risk factors.

Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the US in women each year. Unfortunately, there are some women and some infants for whom breastfeeding is not an option, but for so many, it is exciting to see that there is something that women can do to help decrease their risk while doing something good for their babies at the same time. This report adds additional support to the win-win situation that breastfeeding can be.

Atlanta, what has been your experience? Share your stories, share your ideas. Post.

  • Melissa Kottke, MD, is an assistant professor in the Department of Gynecology & Obstetrics at Emory University School of Medicine. She is a member of Emory Women’s Care team and delivers babies at Emory University Hospital Midtown.
  • Ruth Simmons, RNC, IBCLC, is a lactation specialist and the Coordinator of Lactation Support Services at Emory University Hospital Midtown. She is an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant.
  • http://www.emoryhealthcare.org/departments/maternity_center/index.html
  • http://www.emoryhealthcare.org/departments/maternity_center/patient_info/Caring_for_Your_Baby.html
  • http://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/benefits/#a
  • (Information provided by Emory on this site is intended solely for general educational purposes and is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. Always seek the advice of your physician or other health provider for any questions you may have regarding your health and medical condition. If you rely on any information available through this website, you do so at your own risk. You understand that you are solely responsible for any damage or loss you may incur that results from your use of or reliance on any material or information provided by Emory through this website.)


24 comments Add your comment

Tracee aka TiTi @ 47

May 12th, 2009
10:42 am

I breastfeed all three of my children. My first was breastfed until she was 23 months!! Needless to say breastfeeding is not good birth control because I was 5 months pregnant with the second before I even realized I was expecting. Which brings me to my comment about weight lose and breastfeeding. Other than the few pounds I lost after having my first child I never got back to my pre-prenancy weight of 115 lbs. I hovered around 135-140 and then I was pregnant again. Had my second child, nursed her and really watched what i ate and again, no real weight loss and the same with my son? So I’m not too convinced that breastfeeding really helps that much with weight loss UNLESS you really watch your diet because for some of us you just can’t go back to eating like you used to before you started having kids :-) In any event BREAST FEEDING IS THE BEST!!!!

Tracee aka TiTi @ 47

May 12th, 2009
10:43 am

Oops! Typo. . . I should read “I breastfed (not feed) LOL!!!

Cindy

May 12th, 2009
10:55 am

I shared an 8 month breastfeeding relationship with my first. Then six years later, I breastfed my daughter for over 2 years. Breastfeeding is good for Mom and baby both. It creates a bond that I cannot describe in words. It is that beautiful to me.

The biggest help with breastfeeding is to create a network of support. And do your research. If you are modest, there are aids to help you preserve your modesty. If you aren’t modest, well….as my husband always said – “If they stare, they have the problem!” If there are health issues or breast reduction, there are still ways that you can work around that problem. And if there are problems for the baby…well there are always pumps. My sister in law exclusively pumped for her special needs baby for over a year. So, my encouragement is to find a way to make it work…don’t just give up.

Join La Leche or another breastfeeding or mom’s support group that endorses breastfeeding. Surrounding yourself with positive makes all the difference in your ability to continue longterm. Society loves to tell us what rules we are supposed to “obey”. But society has often and continues to display a lot of ignorance regarding breastfeeding.

Alice

May 12th, 2009
12:37 pm

I experienced a surprise pregnancy at age 42! So breastfeeding was my only option, as I was not even considering the cost of formula. I breastfed my daughter for 26 months. It was VERY difficult to ween her off. I thought I had done so when she was 19 months…but then she becam sick and I started producing milk again. (Someone referred to this as “mercy” milk…a new one on me). Anyway, she wouldn’t take anything but breast milk. She got well and sort of just weened herself off…Nature is really unexplainable…but my daughter has so few colds…She is now five! I am a true proponent of breastfeeding. (and I agree that weight loss is not something I EVER experienced LOL)

Amy

May 12th, 2009
12:46 pm

Breastfeeding is extremely hard to do if you are working. I could not get as much milk out pumping as I needed to and eventually my milk just dried up. Not to mention, it was a battle at my company just to find a space to pump!

Scarlett

May 12th, 2009
1:29 pm

Breastfeeding my children has been the best experience. I nursed my first son, now 12 years old, for 19 months. I am currently breastfeeding my 18 month old son. I found that breastfeeding was both economical and convenient.

Although I stay at home now, I worked for the phone company when nursing the first child. It was somewhat difficult securing a room to pump, but the benefits to my son far outweighed the struggle.

I just did not feel comfortable giving my children formula. I am proud to say that both of my children are very healthy. The most serious illness has been a cold.

Admittedly, I have and continue to struggle with my post-pregnancy weight. I guess my body did not get the memo about weight loss and breastfeeding.

I try my best to encourage new mothers to nurse their children. For so long breastfeeding has been seen as time consuming and somewhat obscene. Nothing could be further from the truth. It is what your breasts are intended to do.

Cindy, in the previous post, offered great advice. What is needed most is a good support system. Joining a group of other breastfeeding mom’s is a wonderful idea. She is right, anyone who complains about your decision to breastfeed has the problem.

Mary

May 12th, 2009
1:46 pm

I have been breastfeeding for 10 years straight (4 children, NOT one for 10 years!), and I have to say that there is NOTHING better for both mom and baby. I wouldn’t trade that sweet, special time for anything in the world, and as my youngest (18 months) comes close to weaning I know I will be sad to be finally finished. It is most definitely a relationship, and nothing else will be similar to it later. My daughter, for example, who at 18 months loves her bottles of milk, will literally throw the bottle aside with flair in favor of brestfeeding when available. She knows my milk, but in addition, she knows the warmth and smell of my body and takes extreme comfort from closeness with me. Also, breastmilk is a living, organic substance. What I mean is that it actually responds to baby’s needs and changes throughout a feeding and as baby grows. We all know about supply and demand with BF– the more your baby drinks, the more milk you make. But also, the longer the baby drinks, the fattier and more protein-filled the milk is. In the early days, when baby cries you find milk leaking all over your shirt. I have filled with milk when she cried when I wasn’t even home– it was after filling with milk that I called home and found she was crying.

I will say that I never lost much weight breastfeeding, no matter how I’ve tried… and pumping is hard work, so it does take a lot of commitment for working moms. But the convenience and lack of cost cannot be emphasized enough– why pay for inferior food when God gives you the superior stuff for free? If you can BF, you should, for the health and happiness of both mother and baby. It is also designed to get your body ready for motherhood and recovered from birth (recovery of the uterus as well as hormonal regulation of moods). I would say it didn’t do much for birth control, since I was fertile again at 4 months, but the truth is maybe I would have been fertile at 2 without it… I’ll never know… I fully encourage mothers who are able to BF their babies, because I can’t imagine passing up on this special gift– for both of you.

CartersMom

May 12th, 2009
1:57 pm

I breastfed my son for 11.5 months. I’m extremely proud of myself for hanging in that long. Although I luckily had a very cozy closet to pump in at work, it was definitely not fun having to lug all of that stuff back and forth daily. My son was (and still is) a voracious eater, so I will admit that it was tiring at times. But I loved the contact and bonding and will definitely do it again with #2.

However, we have not experienced all of the health benefits. He is in daycare and is very healthy, but he has continuously had colds and ear infections starting around 6 months of age. He even had tonsillitis around 10 months of age, which is almost unheard of. We just had tubes put in his ears last month. We just haven’t seen all of the “he’s never sick” benefits that supposedly occur. A friend of mine did not breastfeed her first who is now 2.5. He has never been sick. Her second baby is now 7 months and has been exclusively breastfed. Just like my son, she has already suffered numerous colds and ear infections. It is definitely an interesting observation.

Elaina

May 12th, 2009
3:06 pm

Women who do not breast feed are stupid. Seriously. Think about it. The whole purpose of breasts is to produce milk for a baby. Why would you substitute some corporate chemical crap for what you are made to do?

This is akin to women who “insist” in C-Sections, because it is convenient. Idiots.

Sorry to sound beligerent, but I just can’t stand the ignorance of some.

And yes, I breast fed my children for more than one year each.

Daddy Mark = yep, a guy

May 12th, 2009
3:18 pm

As a father of two beautiful little girls I want to lend my support to all mom’s who breastfeed. Not only does it do all the wonderful things you ladies state but it is impossible for a dad to help out in this role which means no getting up in the middle of the night, no formula budget and the relaxing joy of just sitting back and watching TV as the kid’s get fed. I promote breastfeeding to any prospective fathers and remind them of these facts.
My only regret is that there is no way to bottle the stuff and sell in on Ebay. My girls have had ZERO colds and by all accounts are the healthiest kids we know. Granted my 2 3/4 year old still indulges and that is beginning to wear on Mommy, but if it keeps us away from the ER then I say “suckle on.” God had the right idea when he gave women the ability to do this, if men had been given the responsibility the human race would have gone the route of the dinosaurs a loooong time ago.

mystery poster

May 12th, 2009
7:49 pm

I breastfed my children (now 22 and 19) for nearly two years each, even though I worked full time.

I pumped until my oldest was about 11 months. I finally realized that even though our society pushes breastfeeding, we are still taught that the bottle is important, and many moms wean to a bottle. That didn’t make sense to me.

My daughter was eating food and drinking out of a cup during the day, so I realized there was no reason to give her bottles of expressed milk. My milk adjusted to produce less during the day, she continued to nurse when I was with her, and ate and drank normal food when I wasn’t.

I stayed home with my son until he was 6 months old. He was eating and drinking regular food during the day, and I continued to nurse him in the morning and evening. It worked out perfectly for us, he never had bottles. BTW, his teeth are perfect. No one believes me that he never had braces.

I really enjoyed that time right after work when my babies wanted to nurse. It forced me to put me feet up and reconnect with them and put everything else aside.

Michelle

May 12th, 2009
7:57 pm

I have breastfed five children (still feeding the 19 month-old), and I realize that I have been breastfeeding babies for about 12 years total! (Oh my!)

I just wanted to say that breastfeeding is a very personal decision. I know there are some women who just can’t breastfeed, and I am not going to judge them or make them feel bad. You are the mom. Make the decisions, do what you need to do, and your child will be OK. For goodness sakes, a lot of us were fed with bottles and we survived. There are a lot of things to feel guilt about in this world. Don’t beat yourself up over this.

However . . .

If you want to breastfeed, you can, and it can be wonderful. I highly recommend going to a few months of Le Leche league meetings before you give birth the first time so that you can have their support from the start (by the way the meetings are about more than breastfeeding–they are also about how to cope with motherhood, common problems babies have like diaper rash and crying, how to deal with the stress of the in-laws telling you how to do everything, etc. It’s just nice to get to know people going through the same things you are going through–you don’t have to feel alone!!)

Good luck with whatever you do, be happy, and remember that the best piece of advice is to ignore everyone’s advice!

All the best!

Justmy2cents

May 12th, 2009
7:59 pm

Elaina- I guess I’m just stupid (in your opinion). 2 children- 1 emergency c -section, the other induced to prevent possible seizure/death for both of us…and my poor “little” 40DDD’s…never produced milk-EVER. Perhaps tatas can be only for pleasure vs. functionality. Try not to be so narrow-minded. And no- they aren’t implants.

neek

May 12th, 2009
10:16 pm

I am a strong proponent of breastfeeding. I exclusively breast fed(EBF) both of my children; my son(who is 5 now) for 8 months, and my daughter (14 mths.) for 7 months–not a drop of formula during that time. It was important for me to build up their immune systems as well as build that special bonding time between my children and myself. The other added perk was that I lost about 25 pds. after each pregnancy. After reading the article, I guess I’ve also gotten some additonal perks that will hopefully benefit me later in life! For you breastfeeding moms–”Keep it pumpin!” :)

lfunnyfarm

May 13th, 2009
8:52 am

I breastfed my 2 sons for about 2 1/2 years each. I felt and still feel that breastfeeding is so very important. If I was able to do this with the problems I had, anyone can!
My firstborn suckled incorrectly (put his tongue over the nipple) and rubbed holes in my nipples. We were both newbies and there was no La Leche League in my town so I didn’t catch it until the damage was done. So I pumped for a while so I could heal.
My second son didn’t have any problems. Everything was simple and easy.
My letdown reflex was so strong that I soaked everything pretty much all the way through nursing both times. I slept on a felted rubber-backed sheet because of leakage.
Even with the issues I have mentioned, issues that probably would cause many women to stop nursing, I continued. I’m not looking for a pat on the back, I simply think it is that important.
The posters are correct – Breastfeeding IS the most economical and the convenient (always the correct amount and temperature, no risk of food poisoning). It is the perfect food for infant humans. Even with all of the nutritional research, formula companies cannot make their product match exactly. You have a built in pacifier :) Studies have shown that breastfed babies are an average of 10 points more intelligent on IQ tests. For the most part, they are healthier. And the bond between baby and mother is just shy of magical!
First timers and women considering nursing, consider all of the advantages. Don’t be swayed by the popular “wisdom” that fathers and grandparents “need” to participate in the feeding of your baby. They don’t. They can bond at other times, through other activities. You, like every other nursing mom, can make it through nighttime feedings without daddy giving a bottle. And don’t be taken in by the “I just didn’t have enough milk” idea. This simply is not the case unless you are suffering from malnutrition or some catastrophic illness. The more the baby suckles, the more milk you produce. When a baby goes through a growth spurt, she/he will nurse hourly. This is not a signal that your milk supply is inadequate (in that you are doing harm to your child), the “problem” is being solved by the increased frequency of nursing. If you feel that you don’t have enough milk, do some research on ways to increase your supply. They can include greater fluid intake, more rest for mom, and increased frequency and duration of breastfeeding sessions.
Nature designed women for this job and privilege. Count your blessings!
Good luck.

lfunnyfarm

May 13th, 2009
8:54 am

I forgot to mention that breastfed baby poop is much less foul than that of formula fed babies :)

Amy in the ATL

May 13th, 2009
11:03 am

Without a doubt, breastfeeding is great for both mom and baby. However, it IS challenging for working moms. I breastfed my first daughter for 6 months, going back to work when she was 15 weeks. Although my company has a mother’s room and a special refrigerator for breastmilk, it was still a challenge to get to the room between meetings, various crisis, occassional travel, etc…so I didn’t make it a year. With my second daughter, I attempted to do the same, but my breastmilk ended up drying up at 4 months causing me to supplement with formula, and she started favoring the formula, causing the remaining milk to dry up, too. So I didn’t make it quite as long the second time around.

All that said, I think moms should be encouraged to breastfeed if they can (and not all can, Elaina—my cousin tried but ended up with a severe thrush problem which endangerd her health and her baby’s) and as long as they can. For many women, 12 months is tough to do if they return to work. So changing the message a bit to be less judgemental and more encouraging (breastfeeding is great-and cheap-so try it!)would probably get even more moms to give breastfeeding a try, which is good for everyone. Saying that if you don’t breastfeed for a year you’re doing a disservice to your baby isn’t particularly helpful, especially for those women with legitimate issues.

Also, Elaina, give the C section thing a break. I had two…and not by choice. And my babies were quite fine.

Basically, moms need to give each other a break. It’s tough being a mom, regardless of your circumstances. Rather than nitpick on who breastfed, who didn’t, who stays home, who doesn’t, we should all support each other and provide words of encouragement, not criticism.

Lulline

May 13th, 2009
11:10 am

Losing my extra baby weight was the next best thing for me besides nursing both my children. As long as I kept the protein and calories intake up I did not have a problem nursing and I especially loved the closeness I had with the babies while doing so. The fact that my boobies got bigger was an extra bonus although I missed sleeping on my stomach at times. I’m not sure of all of the benefits but at my age, I don’t have joint or back problems and my bones are in pretty good shape. The women on my mother’s side had the worst diet in the world; i’m talking high fat, high cholesterol,I should take a Lipitor with that meal diet, and they lived to be in their 90’s. The jury is still out on a lot of things but overall, both my kids were preemies and they are surprisingly healthy. They do manage to dodge whatever the other kids have so that for me is th best benefit to breastfeeding. My son weaned at 20months after my daughter was born but she refused to to give it up and I nursed her until she was 2 1/2 until I reallized she was on the verge of milking me dry. I couldn’t keep up with her and my full time work schedule so I had to force her to wean. That was the worst part of breastfeeding.

GB

May 13th, 2009
4:44 pm

I breastfed both my sons for a year (now 24 and 21)and the results have been great health for the both of them. They rarely even catch a cold. That was a blessing while they were growing up. I too have rarely had a cold and only wish breastfeeding would have prevented these hot flashes I am now dealing with.

[...] bras and I loved that I never had to worry about feeding my baby, I always had food on tap By Ruth Simmons, RNC, and Melissa Kottke, MD Most experts agree that breast milk is the optimal source of nutrition for your baby’s health. [...]

Couvade

May 19th, 2009
12:44 pm

Sick of the sanctimony. Do what works for you. My 3 sisters and I were only breastfed for a month and have become healthy adults. I will breastfeed my daughter until my milk dries up. Either way, it’s not the end of the world.

Gina Ciagne, CLC

May 20th, 2009
2:37 pm

I breastfed and breastmilk fed (with pumping after returning to work after each) both of my children and while challenging at times, I made the decision based on the evidence about the benefits to them that last throughout their lifetime and the benefits to me that can also last a lifetime. Also, it was what breasts were made for and I was making milk specifically for my baby. Knowing I could seriously reduce the risk of illnesses and conditions (ear infections, RSV, overweight, diabetes, etc.) for them and knowing the reduction in risk for myself (reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers, etc.) was compelling enough for me to commit to it and stick with it through the trials and tribulations. I believe it is important to present the facts and to help so a mom can make a truly educated decision. I do not judge and I do not bully–it is not for everyone and it is not feasible for some. Do these benefits mean everyone will be the same whether in weight loss or protective benefits–no, but the risks are reduced and it should not diminish the overall public health benefit of breastfeeding.
 
Gina Ciagne, CLC
Director, Breastfeeding and Consumer Relations
Lansinoh Laboratories
http://www.bymomsformoms.net

Lisa

June 3rd, 2009
6:41 pm

Sounds good to me since I spent a total of 5-1/2 years breastfeeding (four children).

Abby

February 3rd, 2010
11:35 am

I breastfed all four of my kids! It was a wonderful experience with all of them. My middle two are twins, which added a lot of extra time, as I fed them separately. It also gave me special bonding time with each twin. I lost my pregnancy weight immediately, however gain back some after I stop breast feeding. It is hard to adjust to eating less after two years of a healthy appetite.