If you’re a new mom, I’m sure you have heard about all the benefits of breastfeeding. Not only is it helpful in strengthening a bond with your baby, but your breast milk contains antibodies and nutrients that are highly effective and beneficial for your baby. Considering all the infection-fighting benefits it has for your baby, and the raging cold and flu season, you might wonder how breastfeeding boosts mom's immunity.
While there are sufficient studies and data on the immunity benefits of breastfeeding on babies, there aren’t really any studies that show a direct link or benefit to a mother’s immune system. In an interview with Romper, International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) and founder of Oasis Lactation Services, Danielle Downs Spradlin, says that she isn’t aware of any research that shows maternal immunity being improved by lactation, however she says it would make evolutionary sense.
Downs says that breastfeeding does contribute to a mother’s health because it protects moms against developing metabolic syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, metabolic syndrome is a bundle of conditions, including high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels, that combine to increase your chances of developing diabetes, having a stroke, or getting heart disease. A 2017 study published in the Journal of Women’s Health found that women who breastfed for a year or more had a decreased risk in developing metabolic syndrome, increasing the quality of maternal health.
Along with reducing your risk for developing chronic conditions like diabetes and heart disease, breastfeeding can even minimize your risk of developing more serious conditions. Jennifer Jordan, Director of Mom and Baby at Aeroflow, tells Romper that nursing can reduce your chances of getting certain types of cancers, including breast and ovarian cancers. She says that the oxytocin released during your feeding sessions can also help bring your uterus down to size while reducing postpartum bleeding.
Baby Center noted that oxytocin can even help reduce your risk of developing postpartum depression, decrease your stress levels, and make you feel happier. Research shows that high levels of stress or depression can lower your immune response, explained Psychology Today, so if you are happier, you’re healthier.
Breastfeeding can actually help make your bones stronger too. When you lactate, your body absorbs calcium more easily, explained Fit Pregnancy, so eventually your bones will get more dense over time. The article further mentioned that the bone benefits you get from breastfeeding can even reduce your chances of developing conditions like postmenopausal osteoporosis.
There are ways that breastfeeding can improve your overall health, which could in turn help you maintain a stronger immune system. If you co-sleep or breastsleep you might be getting more sleep, noted Fit Pregnancy, and sleep is important when it comes to staying healthy. According to the Mayo Clinic, a lack of sleep can hurt your immune system because your body isn’t getting the chance to produce as many antibodies or cells it needs to fight off infections. So the more sleep you get, the better your immune system will be.
Trying to get some shut eye will help enormously, but there are also other steps you can take to boost your immunity while breastfeeding. To make your immune system stronger, Chicago area pharmacist Bineesh Moyeed suggests you eat a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables. “Eating fresh foods can help you get the vitamins and antioxidants you need to support a healthy immune system,” says Moyeed, “and incorporating superfoods like turmeric, ginger, and garlic can also help.” She notes that it is important to make sure you are getting enough vitamin C and zinc as well, because they can also help boost your infection fighting abilities.
With a combination of adequate sleep, immune boosting foods, plus the overall health benefits of breastfeeding, you should be in pretty good shape and healthy enough to fight whatever comes your way.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.