Breastfeeding has numerous health benefits for your baby; breast milk is packed with nutrients and vitamins. Breast milk also contains antibodies that help the baby develop stronger immunity, protecting them from short- and long-term illnesses and diseases. For mothers, it helps reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes, and high blood pressure.
After you welcome your little one into the world, your doctor suggests breastfeeding your baby for at least 6 months.
Not only is your little one’s digestive system too small, but it doesn’t fully develop until about 4 months to start eating solids.
During this time, your angel must also build their immunity and grow strong to adapt to the outside world.
Breast milk helps them build their immune system, protecting against infections and looking after long-term well-being.
Let’s dive deep into how your breast milk can help your little one become stronger from within and how it benefits them and you, the mom!
Table of Contents
- 1 Importance of breastfeeding
- 2 Breastfeeding and nutrition
- 3 Breastfeeding and the immune system
- 4 Long-term benefits of breastfeeding
- 5 Breastfeeding and disease prevention
- 6 Breastfeeding and allergy prevention
- 7 Breastfeeding and obesity prevention
- 8 When should a mother avoid breastfeeding?
- 9 Breastfeeding benefits for mother
- 10 FAQs
- 11 References
Importance of breastfeeding
When your little one is in your belly, there’s not much to worry about except that you focus on keeping a healthy, well-balanced nutritional diet.
So when you welcome them into the world, your breast milk is considered to be of utmost importance.
Nutrition after birth is critical to an infant and helps them grow, develop, and even continue helping them in the future, even after they’ve stopped breastfeeding.
Research believes breastfeeding during the first 1000 days might mitigate risk factors and prevent metabolic and immune-related pathologies.
A woman’s breast milk is considered golden milk for infants as it provides complete nutrition just after the little one’s birth.
The World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) say breastfeeding should be exclusively for 6 months.
It provides complete nutritional value to the infant just an hour after they’ve been breastfed.
You can supplement with solid foods until they turn 2 years old or longer, depending on when you wish to start the weaning process.
Breastfeeding and nutrition
Have you ever wondered what your breast milk contains and how good it is for your baby?
The breast milk a mother produces contains everything a little one needs. It’s a complete diet for infants up to 6 months, including staying hydrated.
Your milk provides a list of the following nutrients to your baby:
Your milk contains protein which can be further divided into two components which are whey and casein.
It allows for easier and quick digestion, where whey accounts for 60% of the milk and casein accounts for 40%.
It serves as a protection against infections. Here’s a list of all the specific proteins you’ll find in your breast milk:
- Lactoferrin inhibits the growth of iron-dependent bacteria in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Secretory IgA works to protect the infant from viruses and bacteria.
- Lysozyme protects the infant against E.Coli and Salmonella.
- The Bifidus factor supports the growth of Lactobacillus.
Fats are essential for the baby and their health and are a part of the mother’s breast milk.
It’s important for brain development and absorption of fat-soluble vitamins and is a primary calorie source.
The long-chain fatty acids are needed for brain, retina, and nervous system development.
They’re deposited in the brain during the last trimester of pregnancy and also in breast milk.
Vitamins in your breast milk directly result from the vitamins you take in your diet.
That’s why your doctor tells you to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle that you continue in your pregnancy even after childbirth.
For 6 months, what you eat and drink significantly affects the quality of your breast milk. You must get the necessary nutrition.
Fat-soluble vitamins A, D, E, and K are vital to the infant’s health.
Carbohydrates are needed and found in breast milk. It makes up 40% of the total calories provided by breast milk.
Lactose helps decrease unhealthy bacteria in the stomach, which improves the absorption of calcium, phosphorus, and magnesium.
It helps to fight disease and promote the growth of healthy bacteria in the stomach.
Breastfeeding and the immune system
After welcoming your little one into this big world, while you can protect them from physical harm and keep them safe, focusing on their internal growth is as essential.
During the initial weeks of postnatal life, the adaptive immune system of the newborn is immature, insufficient, and ineffective to protect against pathogens.
Since their immunity is weak, they are more open to catching infections, various illnesses, and chances of death increases.
As you continue to breastfeed your little one, your milk’s composition keeps evolving according to your baby’s needs.
It contains higher levels of proteins, fats, and nutrients that support the growth and development of your little one.
Your breast milk is a great way to build your little one’s immunity.
The maternal antibodies can fight infection and are present in high amounts in colostrum, also known as the first milk you get in the initial days after childbirth.
These antibodies are present the whole time you choose to breastfeed and only protect your child further while building their immunity stronger.
It will protect your little one from infectious diseases.
While breast milk contains hundreds to thousands of distinct bioactive molecules that protect against infection and inflammation and contribute to immune maturation, it also helps proper organ development.
Breastfed infants have less difficulty with digestion as compared to formula-fed infants.
It acts as a source of bacterial colonization of the infant’s gut.
The healthy microbiota allows proper immune training in the newborn and immunogenic response under a future challenge in adulthood.
Here’s a list of health issues your little one would have a lower risk of getting if they’re exclusively fed breast milk for the first 6 months:
- Diarrhea, vomiting, and preterm necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)
- Respiratory infections like pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), and whooping cough
- Ear infections
- Bacterial meningitis
- Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and infant mortality
- Childhood obesity
- Type 2 diabetes
- Celiac disease and inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Long-term benefits of breastfeeding
Your doctor would recommend you exclusively breastfeed for the first six months, which has a list of advantages for you and your little one.
The long-term benefits for the baby include preventing the risk of metabolic-related comorbidities such as overweight and obesity, type 2 diabetes, and chronic diseases in the infant.
Breastfeeding and disease prevention
Current research shows that the risk of chronic diseases is 20% to more than 200% higher in those who aren’t breastfed compared to those who were breastfed in infancy.
When you breastfeed your baby in infancy, there are lower mean serum cholesterol levels in their adult life.
The effects are far greater than feeding them anything other thing including formula.
Breastfeeding and allergy prevention
If your family has a history of allergies, you better stick to breastfeeding your baby for the first 6 months of their life as it has numerous benefits.
The American Academy of Pediatrics says breastfeeding can delay or prevent asthma, food allergies, or eczema.
Studies show that babies born in families with a great history of allergies do better if they’re breastfed and are less likely to get food allergies.
In fact, combined feeding, which includes breastfeeding and formula feeding, also has benefits as it can reduce the risk of eczema.
It’s unknown if avoiding certain foods during breastfeeding and pregnancy will or can help prevent allergies and asthma.
However, some studies show a higher risk of developing allergic diseases and sensitization if the duration of breastfeeding is relatively long in asthmatic mothers.
But if you or a family member has certain allergies, limit your intake of such food during pregnancy and breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding and obesity prevention
Choosing to breastfeed your little one is also great for preventing obesity in them.
Babies who drink breast milk are more likely to have certain bacteria in their digestive tracts that help prevent obesity.
Another reason your baby won’t face obesity is that when you breastfeed exclusively, your little one is less likely to be overfed. When your baby is full, they stop sucking.
On the other hand, bottle feeding can be a bit more for your baby since you end up force feeding them sometimes for them to finish their bottle.
This also gets them into the habit of developing a schedule of eating a certain quantity at certain times without being able to tell if they’re eating when hungry or just out of habit.
When they grow into adults, they tend to overeat and increase their stomach capacity leading them to obesity.
It’s important to teach your little one, as they eventually become a toddler, to eat only when hungry and do so with a well-balanced nutritional meal and in small intervals.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has encouraged parents to learn and use “responsive feeding,” which means learning about their little one’s hunger cues and when they’re full.
When should a mother avoid breastfeeding?
Catching cold and flu is pretty common, and if you’re breastfeeding, it’s actually a great thing for your little one.
Breastfeeding during such infections can help your baby get the antibodies against the said infection and develop immunity.
But there’re certain conditions and situations when breastfeeding should be stopped or reconsidered.
- If you’ve been infected with HIV, it can also pass on to your baby via breastfeeding.
- Certain medications may also pass onto the baby. Some of these could harm the little one, so breastfeeding should be avoided.
- Mothers going through cancer and taking chemotherapy medications have to stop breastfeeding. It can severely damage the growth of the baby.
- Women going through radiation therapy can’t breastfeed until their therapy is over.
- Mothers suffering from TB aren’t advised to breastfeed either, as they can spread it to the baby.
- Mothers infected with the human T-cell lymphotropic virus type I or type II shouldn’t breastfeed.
- Mothers taking illegal drugs can’t breastfeed because the agents can affect the baby and cause serious side effects. Also, smoking and alcohol should be avoided for the time being breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding benefits for mother
It’s great to know that breastfeeding is helpful to your baby in numerous ways and helps them develop from within and physically.
But have you wondered if it could also be beneficial to you too?
Breastfeeding has several benefits for you that include:
1. Losing weight
It can be a different experience for each mother. From some mothers, you might have heard that you will lose weight, but others say you’ll gain weight during breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding does tend to burn calories, and after 3 months, you’ll experience an increase in fat burning compared to non-lactating mothers.
But another thing to pay attention to is what you’re eating. The right kind of nutritional and well-balanced meal can go a long way in reducing weight.
Even something as simple as walking for 30 minutes daily can help you shed that pregnancy weight.
Whatever you do, don’t reduce your meals or go on quick weight-loss diets, as it’s not good for you or your little one.
2. Uterus contracts
During your pregnancy, as the uterus grows in size, you eventually have a baby at the end of 8 months, which has taken most of the space in there.
As the uterus tries to return to its previous size, it goes through a process called involution.
This is driven by oxytocin, a hormone your body secretes in high amounts during labor to help deliver the baby and reduce bleeding.
This hormone production increases when you’re breastfeeding too.
It encourages uterine contractions and reduces bleeding, helping the uterus return to its previous size.
Breastfeeding continuously for the first 6 months helps mothers go through the uterus’s involution.
3. Lower risk of depression
Mothers who breastfeed their babies seem less likely to develop postpartum depression, which can develop easily after childbirth.
Their cases seem much better than those mothers who wean early or tend to breastfeed for a shorter duration.
However, if you experience postpartum depression early on, you’ll find it more troublesome to even breastfeed your little one.
In such cases seeking medical advice as soon as possible is advised.
4. Reduces disease risk
Choosing to breastfeed will also help you get long-term protection against cancer and several diseases.
It also helps reduce the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. While also protecting against:
- High blood pressure
- High blood fats
- Heart disease
- Type 2 diabetes
5. Prevents menstruation
There’re chances that your ovulation and menstruation are also paused as you continue to breastfeed.
But there’s no guarantee, as many moms think it’s a natural contraception and end up conceiving again.
Do breastfed babies get sick less?
Once you start breastfeeding, babies tend to have fewer cases of infection and hospitalization.
As mothers continue to breastfeed, the antibodies in their breast milk pass onto the baby and help them develop a stronger immunity to infections and diseases.
When is a baby’s immune system fully developed?
The immune system is pretty much non-existent when a baby is born.
Therefore, it’s essential to breastfeed the baby as the mother’s milk is complete nutrition for the baby.
Maternal antibodies help babies develop immunity and protect them from diseases and infections.
As a child continues to grow, it takes 7-8 years for them to develop their maturity fully.
After exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months, pay attention to what food you’re providing to your child.
Ensure it’s as nutritious as possible, and avoid junk food or processed food as much as possible.
Is breastfeeding once a day beneficial?
Breastfeeding even one time is more beneficial than not breastfeeding at all.
Your breast milk contains nutrients and everything your baby needs to grow physically and mentally while boosting their immunity.
It’s also better for your body to breastfeed your baby as much as possible as there’re many benefits for the woman.
As the baby receives contact from you, there’s a feeling of closeness, and it supports their heart rate, respiration, glucose level, and temperature. Mother and child form a deeper bond.
What are the disadvantages of not breastfeeding?
Suppose you choose not to breastfeed or cannot breastfeed for a reason.
In that case, you should know that your infant might suffer from an increased incidence of infectious morbidity, including otitis media, gastroenteritis, and pneumonia, as well as elevated risks of childhood obesity, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, leukemia, and sudden infant death syndrome.