How Breastfeeding Benefits Mothers

By: Shen-Li Lee

With numerous guidelines being written on the importance and benefits of breastfeeding, more and more mothers are becoming aware of how beneficial it is to nurse their babies.  However, it seems that the benefits of breastfeeding to a mother isn't as well publicised, for many mothers still view breastfeeding as a sacrificial practice almost akin to martyrdom.
Far from it, mothers stand to gain just as much from breastfeeding their babies.  Breastfeeding is beneficial to mothers as it reduces their risk factors for developing certain medical conditions and diseases later in life.  It is beneficial for helping mothers regain their pre-pregnant figure more quickly - something that is bound to attract the attention of many post-partum mothers.  Breastfeeding also has psychological and financial benefits.
Here are the 17 benefits that breastfeeding offers to nursing mothers:

  1. The baby's suckling action triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin which produces the letdown reflex (a process whereby the breast releases its stored milk to the baby). Oxytocin also causes contraction of the uterus which is important during postpartum healing as it reduces the risk of bleeding and promotes the return of the uterus to its original shape and size.

  2. Breastfeeding delays the return of menstruation. Mothers who formula feed their babies usually observe a return of their periods within 6-8 weeks postpartum. A breastfeeding mother can expect to delay the return of her period for months up to a year and beyond. This helps a mother maintain her stores of iron and helps to reduce her risk of developing iron deficient anaemia.

  3. Breastfeeding reduces a mother's fertility by preventing ovulation. This can help delay further pregnancies and allow her body to recover before being taxed again with another pregnancy. It is important to note, however, that the period of reduced fertility depends on the mother, her baby and their nursing patterns.

  4. There is evidence that breastfeeding may provide a mother protection against breast, uterine and ovarian cancers.

  5. A common misconception is that breastfeeding increases a mother's risk of osteoporosis, however, studies have found the converse to be true. While a mother's stores of calcium are reduced during breastfeeding, it was found that bone density return to normal levels and even increased after weaning, thus providing extra protection against osteoporosis.

  6. Breastfeeding has been shown to reduce a mother's risk of developing rheumatoid arthritis.

  7. Some studies also show that breastfeeding helps to reduce a mother's risk of developing heart disease, heart attacks and stroke.

  8. Breastfeeding also reduces the risk of developing diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.

  9. Breastfeeding releases the prolactin - a hormone responsible for milk production. Prolactin also has a calming and sedating effect on a nursing mother. This relaxes the mother, helps her get back to sleep quickly after a night-time feed and may be helpful in combating the baby blues and potential postnatal depression. Studies show that mothers who breastfeed are less likely to suffer from postpartum anxiety and depression.

  10. It has been shown that breastfeeding strengthens the bond between a mother and her baby. This can help first time mothers adapt to the role of motherhood more easily. Studies have also shown that mothers with a history of abandonment are less likely to leave their babies if they breastfeed them.

  11. Breastfed babies are less likely to fall ill which offers mothers greater peace of mind. Something must be said about the benefit of not having to deal with the added stress of living with a child with recurrent illness.

  12. Breastfeeding can consume an extra 200-500 calories a day (the equivalent of swimming 30 laps or riding a bicycle up a hill for an hour). This helps a mother return to her pre-pregnant weight more quickly and easily.

  13. During pregnancy, fat is stored around the waist and hip areas to protect the baby and womb. This fat is utilised in the production of breast milk after birth, which helps a mother return to her pre-pregnant size more quickly than a mother who formula feeds her baby.

  14. It has been estimated that breastfeeding can save parents an average of US$400-800 a year since there is no need to purchase expensive infant formulas.

  15. Breastfeeding directly also means there is no need for baby bottles, sterilizers and other fancy equipment required with bottle feeding.

  16. Breastfeeding is a lot more convenient, especially for night feeds as Mum does not have to get up to prepare formula.

  17. A nursing mother can also rest while she is nursing the baby (utilising the lying down position).  She doesn't have to stay awake to hold the bottle which allows her to get more rest.

The benefits of breastfeeding for mothers are many and should not be overlooked.  They are also equally valid factors that mothers should take into consideration when deciding whether or not to breastfeed their babies.  Even if some mothers might not want to breastfeed their babies for the benefits that it offers to the baby, I'm sure knowing a little more about "what's in it for me" might change their perspectives.

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Shen-Li is a stay-at-home-mum dedicated to the pursuit of excellence in parenting. She has a formal educational background and former work experience in healthcare. If you enjoyed this article, visit her blog Babylicious and follow her as she learns how to raise a happy, confident and successful person.

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