Some parents love breastfeeding or chestfeeding — for others, it’s an exhausting period of life that they can’t wait to put behind them. Of course, you might love it with your first kid and have a more difficult time with your second, or vice versa. But even if you love breastfeeding, there’s no denying that it is both a time-intensive and physically demanding undertaking. If you’ve decided to breastfeed, you’re probably acquainted with the many benefits that breastfeeding offers your baby — high among them is the fact that breastfeeding has been associated with boosting baby’s immunity, including to COVID-19 — but what about to you? What exactly are the benefits of breastfeeding for moms?
What are the best benefits of breastfeeding for mom?
Among the many benefits of breastfeeding for both mothers and babies, one of the very best benefits of breastfeeding for moms is that it might help keep certain diseases at bay. “Breastfeeding is associated with a reduced maternal risk of breast cancer, ovarian cancer, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes,” explains Dr. Sara Waterman, a family practice physician. Specifically, this was shown in a 2002 a landmark study that pooled 50,000 breast cancer cases. Statistical analysis showed that the relative risk for developing breast cancer in a woman who has given birth is 4.3% lower for every 12 months a woman breastfeeds. In 2013, a follow-up study found that the risk of breast cancer was 14% lower among parous women (the medical term for women who have given birth) who had ever breastfed compared with women who had never breastfed. Those who breastfed for 12 months or more had a 28% lower risk of breast cancer. In short, breastfeeding isn’t a guarantee that you won’t get breast cancer, but the science is strong in showing that it significantly lowers your risk.
In the more immediate term, Waterman tells Romper that “women who don't breastfeed experience more blood loss postpartum.” Further, she says, “there is some evidence that breastfeeding may lower a woman's risk for postpartum depression, but that outcome is not as well studied.”
The list of benefits of breastfeeding for moms doesn’t stop here, though, according to Allison Walsh, an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant. In addition to a lowered risk of breast cancer and postpartum depression, breastfeeding benefit for mothers include:
- A lowered risk of Type 2 Diabetes
- A lowered risk of ovarian cancer
- A lowered risk of osteoporosis.
- An easier time returning to your pre-pregnancy weight. Breastfeeding can burn up to 500 calories per day, says Walsh.
- Delayed return of menstruation. After all, you have enough to deal with without your period on top of it all.
- Protection against iron deficiency anemia, which can be caused by excessive blood loss.
- Lower cost to your family. While breastfeeding is not exactly ‘free’ — Hanna Rosin’s famous quote about breastfeeding is that it’s only “free if your time is worthy nothing” — but it is cheaper than formula.
What are the best benefits of breastfeeding for mom and baby?
Breastfeeding benefits for mom and baby can be summed up in just about one word: oxytocin. Oxytocin is the so-called “feel-good” chemical that your brain releases when you snuggle your baby — or fall in love. “Oxytocin is released whenever the baby is latched or milk is being removed, which can have a beneficial effect on the lactating parent’s mental health,” Walsh tells Romper. “I tell the parents I work with that this hormone is there to help us to sit down to feed and focus on our baby — to enjoy the baby and not care about dishes or laundry piling up.” Babies’ brains also produce oxytocin when they’re being fed and cuddled.
Even if you’re not breastfeeding, Walsh explains, it doesn’t mean you miss out on the benefits of oxytocin: “For parents who need to or choose to feed their baby with a bottle, there are some easy things to do to get the oxytocin flowing. Hold the baby skin-to-skin while feeding with the bottle. And most of all, use slow-paced feeding techniques to pace the feed to the baby’s ability and comfort.”
Finally, though no one with a newborn in the house is getting tons of sleep, two studies have found that breastfeeding parents get slightly more sleep than formula feeding parents. This is for a few reasons, Walsh explains: “If feeding is going smoothly, it can be quicker than preparing and feeding from bottles and get everyone back to bed sooner." And oxytocin, which can make you feel warm and fuzzy inside, can actually help you get some more shut-eye. Breastfeeding at night is also the best way to boost your prolactin levels — prolactin is the hormone that keeps up your supply — so it can also be helpful to your overall supply to breastfeed at night.
When breastfeeding is going well, there are strong mental and physical benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby.
Sara Waterman, M.D., Pacific Medical Center
Allison Walsh, International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant and postpartum doula
Erica H. Anstey, Meredith L. Shoemaker, Chloe M. Barrera, Mary Elizabeth O’Neil, Ashley B. Verma, Dawn M. Holman, “Breastfeeding and Breast Cancer Risk Reduction: Implications for Black Mothers,” American Journal of Preventive Medicine, Volume 53, Issue 3, Supplement 1, 2017.
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