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.
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