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The short- and long-term benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby

The short- and long-term benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby

When you’re expanding your family, there are lots of decisions to be made, from what color to paint the nursery to whether to breastfeed your baby. Learning about the benefits of breastfeeding can be helpful.

August is designated as National Breastfeeding Month, an occasion that highlights how breastfeeding can benefit both mom and baby. While the benefits of breast milk for babies are well known, the health benefits for the mother aren’t promoted quite as much. Our Touro team of experts is here to give you the scoop.

What are the benefits of breastfeeding?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and other organizations recommend feeding your baby only breast milk for the first six months of life. That’s because breast milk is specially formulated by your body to meet the nutritional needs of your baby as he or she grows.

There are many short- and long-term benefits for babies who are exclusively breastfed. Breast milk contains antibodies that can strengthen the immune system and help protect babies from many different illnesses, including ear infections, diarrhea, allergies, eczema and respiratory infections. A breastfed baby has a lower risk of developing childhood leukemia and obesity, as well as Type 2 diabetes. Sudden infant death syndrome, or SIDS, is also less common among babies who are breastfed.

Mamas who breastfeed also benefit. They have a lower risk of postpartum high blood pressure, heart disease, Type 2 diabetes and certain types of cancer, including ovarian and breast cancer.

There are short-term benefits, too. Breastfeeding triggers the release of oxytocin, which helps the uterus contract after delivery, lessening the amount of postpartum bleeding. As the body produces breast milk and the mom breastfeeds, the body also burns extra calories, which can help moms lose weight more quickly after giving birth.

How long do you need to keep breastfeeding?

That’s a great question—and one that doesn’t have a one-size-fits-all answer. As mentioned above, the AAP recommends that babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life. Extended breastfeeding, though, offers additional benefits.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has long recommended continuing to breastfeed babies for up to two years of age or beyond, alongside other food after the first six months. Last year, the AAP joined the WHO in making that recommendation.

Breast milk provides all of the nutrients a child needs for those first months of life, and according to the WHO, it can continue to provide up to one-half of essential nutrients up to age 1 and one-third of essential nutrients up to age 2.

All the health benefits mentioned above for both mom and baby are magnified when babies are breastfed for a year or longer. There are other benefits, as well. Breastfeeding can help strengthen the relationship and bonding between mother and child.

Breastfeeding can be challenging, especially in the early weeks. If you’re struggling with nursing your child at any point on your breastfeeding journey, it may be helpful to reach out to a lactation consultant. Lactation consultants have special training in the management of breastfeeding challenges and can provide guidance about techniques that may ease the process. They can also help navigate special circumstances, such as low milk supply, clogged ducts and tongue and lip ties, and provide options for supplementation when necessary.

If you’ve chosen to breastfeed your baby, enjoy the journey and enlist the support of your family, friends and healthcare providers. The time and effort you spend, no matter how long you breastfeed, will have lifelong benefits for you and your child.

When you need a little extra attention during pregnancy, Touro’s maternal-fetal medicine specialists are here to care for moms and babies at high risk.