As you prepare for the arrival of your baby, one question that will likely come up is this: will you breastfeed? While deciding between breast and formula feeding, knowing the breastfeeding benefits will likely make the decision a bit easier.
How to feed your baby can sometimes feel like an awfully big decision to make. And in many ways, it is. While there are certainly benefits and cons to both breastfeeding and formula feeding, in this post we’re going to focus on the benefits of breastfeeding.
This post may contain affiliate links. Read my full disclosure here. I am not a medical professional, and this is not medical advice.
One of the many decisions you should make before your baby is born is whether or not to breastfeed. While this can feel like a big decision with an awfully big commitment, the truth is that you don’t have to breastfeed forever if you decide it’s not a good fit for your baby and family.
However, I do encourage you to give it a try before you decide to formula feed. You can always switch to formula. But if you start formula feeding right after birth, you may find that your milk dries up and you are unable to breastfeed later if you decide to give it a try.
For this reason, I think it’s worth trying to breastfeed before making a final decision. I’d encourage you to stick with it for several weeks. The first few weeks are inevitably the hardest, and many new moms are deterred from it because of the initial difficulty.
However, I assure you, it does get easier.
During this initial period of learning to breastfeed and adjusting to it, it can be extremely beneficial for you to know the benefits of breastfeeding. Knowing the benefits for both mom and baby can give you the motivation and fortitude to push through the initial difficulty and discomfort.
So what are those benefits?
Breastfeeding Benefits For Mom
Did you know that breastfeeding doesn’t just benefit baby, but also benefits you? Before we get into the benefits for your baby, let’s cover some of the many benefits you can personally expect from breastfeeding.
1. Releases Oxytocin
One big benefit from breastfeeding is that it releases the hormone known as Oxytocin. Oxytocin is the hormone responsible for feeling good (sometimes called the “love hormone”), and plays a multitude of roles in the female body. It is released during intercourse, as well as a response to nipple stimulation.
Oxytocin is also responsible for starting labor and intensifying contractions. You may be more familiar with it’s synthetic form, Pitocin, which is often used to induce labor. Although it plays a part in contractions, Oxytocin is also a pain reliever that your body naturally produces.
When you breastfeed, the stimulation to your nipples will cause Oxytocin to be released. The release of the hormone can help with discomfort you may be feeling, and should give you a “feel good” feeling.
But that’s not all Oxytocin does—we’ll cover more of it’s benefits in the next two points.
2. Aids Postpartum
Oxytocin doesn’t just make you feel good, it also has important postpartum benefits. Right after birth, the release of Oxytocin signals your uterus to contract. This helps it to shrinks back down to it’s pre-pregnancy size.
That’s why the first time you breastfeed you are likely to experience cramps, and possibly even contractions. Sometimes this cramping can get pretty painful, but it’s very necessary for your uterus to shrink properly. You may continue to feel cramping when you breastfeed for a few weeks, but it should gradually go away and be less painful.
3. May reduce risk of postpartum depression
While this is not a for sure thing, breastfeeding may reduce your risk of developing postpartum depression. Postpartum depression is a form of depression that affects anywhere from 1 in 8 (national average) to 1 in 5 women.
Many women confuse postpartum depression with the baby blues, which can have similar symptoms. However, the baby blues will improve and go away within a couple weeks, whereas depression will not. Postpartum depression tends to be more severe than the baby blues, and it can last years if left untreated.
According to the CDC, common postpartum symptoms include:
- Crying more frequently than normal
- Feeling withdrawn, numb, or disconnected
- Being concerned about hurting your baby
- Feeling like you’re not a good mom
Breastfeeding may reduce your risk of developing postpartum depression due to the release of Oxytocin. Since Oxytocin is responsible for releasing the “love hormone,” it’s possible that it may help ward off feelings of depression.
If you think you may have postpartum depression or anxiety, contact your doctor right away. Don’t feel bad about it, postpartum depression is not your fault and does not make you a bad mom. You are important, and so is your mental health.
4. Can help with bonding
Let me put this out there first and foremost—breastfeeding is not the only way to bond with your baby. If you choose to formula feed, you can bond with your baby while bottle feeding as well as a wide variety of other ways.
That being said, breastfeeding can be a great way to bond with your baby. There’s something very personal about breastfeeding, and this can create a unique bonding experience.
5. Assists with losing baby weight
One benefit of breastfeeding that many moms look forward to is that it frequently helps to lose the extra baby weight. Now, I’m going to be perfectly honest with you. This is not a 100% for sure thing. Pregnancy and postpartum hormones affect us all differently, and sometimes that means the baby weight likes to stick around long after baby is out, even if you are breastfeeding.
However, it is also true that breastfeeding burns extra calories, and for many women this causes some of the postpartum weight to shed.
Whether it helps you lose baby weight or not, please don’t let that be your primary focus. We tend to be too hard on ourselves after having a baby, and I know our culture doesn’t help with that. Your biggest concern should be to eat sufficiently and healthily to support both yourself and your baby’s needs.
If you’re looking for healthy meals and snacks to make while you’re breastfeeding, I highly recommend Mommy Labor Nurse’s Breastfeeding Cookbook. This ebook was created with tons of healthy and delicious foods that are not only good for you, but also support you on your breastfeeding journey.
6. May protect against future diseases
This benefit is entirely for you mama. For most women, breastfeeding reduces your risk of developing future diseases later in life. According to the CDC, breastfeeding your baby can lower your chances of developing high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and ovarian and breast cancers.
Considering how life altering those particular diseases can be, it is certainly worth lowering your risk any chance you get. Breastfeeding can be an relatively simple way to help protect yourself and your health.
7. Saves money
Compared to formula feeding, breastfeeding your baby can most definitely save you a ton of money. And for most new parents, that is a huge benefit to consider.
If you choose to exclusively nurse, all you really need is a comfortable place to nurse and boppy pillow (you could do without, but I highly recommend it—especially if this is your first time breastfeeding!). Oh, and probably some burp cloths to catch any spit-up.
Even if you decide to pump (exclusive or not), you’ll still save a ton of money. And did you know that under the Affordable Care Act, most insurances are required to cover the cost of a breast pump, either in part or in full?
I was able to get a completely free breast pump, along with replacement parts every couple of months. I simply filled out a short form on Aeroflow Breastpumps and they took care of contacting my insurance, getting a prescription from my doctor, and shipping the pump right to my door—all within a few short days. It’s completely free to sign up, and they handle everything so that all you have to do is pick out your insurance covered pump.
8. Can save time
Depending on how you go about it, breastfeeding your baby may save you a ton of time. If you choose to simply nurse, you’ll typically save time over bottle feeding.
Nursing your baby is typically more time efficient than pumping milk, since nursing does not require you to wash and sanitize bottles on top of feeding your baby. The same goes for formula feeding. No bottles, no cleanup, more time.
Of course, sometimes a baby will be slow nurser, which can potentially be a time sucker. Still, in most cases, breastfeeding your baby by nursing is typically the most time efficient way to feed your baby.
Breastfeeding Benefits For Baby
Typically the benefits for baby are what most people think of when they think of the benefits of breastfeeding. That’s probably because the primary purpose of breastfeeding is to feed your baby, and therefore most people think of it just benefiting the baby.
But now we know that there are also amazing benefits for mom too! Now that we’ve talked about the benefits for mom, let’s talk about some of the many ways that breastfeeding benefits your baby.
1. Perfect balance of nutrients
One of the primary benefits of breastfeeding is that your breast milk provides the perfect balance of nutrients for your individual baby. When your baby nurses, your body is able to determine exactly what your baby needs from it’s saliva. That may sound a little bit gross, but it’s also an amazing function of your body!
As your baby grows, your breast milk will also adapt to what your baby needs at that stage of life. Sometimes it can feel stressful to nurse your baby because you can’t see exactly what and how much your baby is getting. Instead of stressing, learn to relax in the knowledge that your body is able to provide what your baby needs, when your baby needs it.
2. Provides antibodies
Much like nutrients, your body is also able to pass on antibodies to your baby. Many important antibodies are passed to your baby through your placenta pre-delivery, and breastfeeding continues that important work after birth.
Your body is also able to produce antibodies when your baby gets sick, to help your baby fight off sickness. When your baby is sick, you may notice—particularly if you are pumping—that your milk turns to a strange color or different consistency. That is because your milk is changing to pass antibodies and specific sickness fighting nutrients to your baby.
3. Milk adjusts according to individual needs
Breast milk doesn’t just adapt to give nutrients at specific ages or stages—it adapts to your specific baby’s needs. Every mom’s milk adjusts to provide specifically for her baby. That includes adjusting for sickness, which we just talked about, and for individual growth needs.
Your milk also adjusts in volume. Not only does it provide in terms of it’s contents, but it also adjusts to how much your baby needs during different stages of growth.
As your baby grows bigger, your body will begin to create more milk based on the demand. Ultimately that means that as your baby consumes more per feeding, your body will create more to meet that demand. When your baby goes through a growth spurt, your milk should adjust to provide more, and will readjust if and when your baby begins to nurse less.
4. Helps baby bond
Just as breastfeeding your baby helps you to bond, it also can help your baby to bond. Particularly when you nurse, your baby is up close and personal with you. This close contact allows your baby to see you clearly (newborns can only clearly see approximately 8-15 inches in front of them) and learn more about you.
Nursing also provides comfort for babies, which in turns aids in bonding. As you become the primary source of comfort, your baby will bond more and more with you.
5. Reduces risk of SIDS
A huge benefit of breastfeeding is that it reduces the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, or SIDS. I know for me personally, SIDS was always a bit of a concern for me as a new mom. It always freaked me out a bit that a baby could just up and die from an unknown cause. And it definitely put me on high alert to ensure Elijah was sleeping safely.
One easy way to help reduce the risk of SIDS is to breastfeed. I’m honestly not sure exactly what the connection is or how it reduces the risk. Regardless, breastfeeding has been proven to reduce the risk, which is a huge benefit in my book.
6. Fewer digestions problems than formula
Because it is naturally produced, and because it has no artificial components to it, breast milk is far easier to digest than formula. For that reason, breast milk is easier for your baby’s stomach to break down and digest. Ultimately this leads to fewer digestion problems for your baby.
If your baby tends to have stomach issues (assuming it is not due to being lactose intolerant, of course), breast milk is most likely your baby’s best food source, and the one least likely to aggravate the digestion track. While some formula fed babies may develop digestion issues, breastfed babies typically have far fewer stomach issues.
7. Reduces risk of ear infections
This is another benefit that I don’t personally understand the science behind, but it has been shown that breastfeeding reduces the risk of ear infections. For whatever reason, breastfed babies are known to have fewer ear infections than those who are formula fed.
8. Can protect against allergies
Another health benefit of breastfeeding is that it can help protect against future allergies. It is now believed that babies should be exposed to common allergens, such as eggs and nuts, as soon as possible. Ultimately, this typically leads to fewer allergies for your baby.
Your breast milk can help expose your baby to allergens by introducing them through your milk early on, long before your baby is ready to start introducing solids. Protecting against allergies is just one of the many health benefits of breastfeeding your baby.
Have you experienced any of these breastfeeding benefits?
Now it’s your turn—have you noticed any of these benefits of breastfeeding? Have your breastfed, or plan to breastfeed, your baby? What’s the biggest benefit for you and your baby?