Benefits of Breastfeeding

Woman breastfeeding baby

Breastfeeding Benefits Mother and Infant Health

Whether you’re pregnant or planning future pregnancy, you face many important decisions regarding your baby’s care, including how to manage your baby’s nutrition. While research indicates breastfeeding provides many health benefits for mothers and their babies, it can also be difficult to manage breastfeeding in today's frenetic world. Learning all you can before you give birth can help aid you in your personal decision concerning your baby’s nutrition.

August is designated Breastfeeding Awareness Month. Your Capital Women’s Care team highlights breastfeeding recommendations; important health benefits breastfeeding offers both baby and mother; new health information relating to COVID-19 and breastfeeding, including recent findings; and vital tips and practices for successful breastfeeding.

Breastfeeding Recommendations

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends exclusive breastfeeding for about 6 months and then continuing with breastfeeding while introducing complementary foods until a child is 12 months old or older. You can click on this link to read the American Academy of Pediatrics complete recommendation for breastfeeding.

Benefits for Infants

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) states breastfeeding offers babies many health benefits:

    • Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for most babies. As your baby grows, a nursing mother’s breast milk changes to meet baby’s exact nutritional requirements.

      Breast milk provides abundant and easily absorbed nutritional components, antioxidants, enzymes, immune properties and live antibodies from baby’s nursing mother. A mother’s more mature immune system makes antibodies that fend off germs. These antibodies enter her milk, helping protect and safeguard baby from illness.

    • Breastfeeding can help protect babies against specific short- and long-term illnesses and diseases. Breastfed babies have less likelihood of having certain health risks, including:

    • Breast milk shares the mother’s antibodies with baby. These antibodies help babies develop strong immune systems that protect them from illnesses, especially critical in baby’s early life until they may receive immunizations.

    • Mothers can breastfeed anytime and anywhere. Mothers can feed their babies without having to mix formula or prepare bottles.

Benefits for Mothers

Breastfeeding mothers also gain important life-long health benefits, including reduced risk of

  • breast cancer
  • ovarian cancer
  • type 2 diabetes
  • endometriosis
  • rheumatoid arthritis
  • lupus
  • heart disease
  • age-related osteoporosis
  • and high blood pressure.

Breastfeeding also helps mothers recover from pregnancy by:

  • promoting faster weight loss postpartum. Breastfeeding causes mothers to burn approximately 500 additional calories daily to build and maintain milk supply.

  • assisting with postpartum recovery and healing. Breastfeeding stimulates the mother’s uterus to contract and return to normal size, lessening postpartum bleeding plus anemia risk and reduces urinary tract infection risks.

  • and reducing postpartum depression risk. Breastfeeding produces the naturally soothing hormones oxytocin and prolactin that promote stress reduction and positive feelings in the nursing mother. This increase in positive mood helps increase maternal confidence and self-esteem.

  • Increasing physical and emotional bonding between mother and child. Breastfeeding promotes skin-to-skin contact, more holding and stroking, which in turn help soothe infants. Experts note this affectionate bonding during the first years of life helps reduce social and behavioral problems in both children and adults.

Breastfeeding and COVID-19

The CDC recommends women who are breastfeeding get vaccinated and stay up to date with their COVID-19 vaccines, including booster recommendations.  COVID-19 vaccination is recommended for women who are pregnant, breastfeeding, trying to get pregnant now or might become pregnant in the future. Your baby’s caregivers and other members of your household, as anyone who will be in contact with baby, should also follow these recommended guidelines.

CDC recommendations align with those from professional medical organizations serving women who are pregnant, including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Society for Maternal Fetal Medicine and the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, along with many other professional medical organizations.

Recent reports have shown breastfeeding women who received mRNA COVID-19 vaccines have antibodies in their breastmilk, which could help protect their babies.

New data indicate completing a 2-dose primary mRNA COVID-19 vaccine series during pregnancy can help protect babies younger than 6 months old from hospitalization due to COVID-19. In this report, the majority (84%) of babies hospitalized with COVID-19 were born to pregnant women who weren’t vaccinated during pregnancy.

Current evidence suggests breast milk is not likely to spread COVID-19 to babies.

You should always wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before breastfeeding or expressing breast milk, even if you don’t have COVID-19. If soap and water aren’t available, use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol content.

Click this link for current CDC information pertaining to breastfeeding and caring for newborns if you have COVID-19.

Breastfeeding Tips

The following tips can help you establish successful breastfeeding practices with your baby:

  • Practice patience and remain calm as you adjust to caring for and feeding your baby. Over time, you’ll learn to read your baby’s cues for feeding times and duration. Set aside a quiet, comfortable space for nursing with minimal distractions (including some soft, soothing background music to help you relax.) Wear comfortable nursing tops to make feeding your baby easier.

  • Maintain a healthy diet complete with snacks to ensure you and baby both get quality, ample nutrition. Talk with your Capital Women’s Care practitioner about postpartum nutrition, especially if you’re breastfeeding.

  • Keep a food diary in the event baby develops behavior changes (gas, crankiness or crying more than usual are a few.) Ask your baby’s pediatrician about symptoms to rule out other potential health issues.

  • Document baby’s feeding schedule. Include times and feeding durations and bring it to baby’s well checkups. A feeding diary can be helpful, especially if your baby isn’t achieving appropriate weight gains.

  • Drink plenty of water to ensure adequate milk production, especially during warmer months.

  • Get plenty of rest. Since your baby will need nighttime feedings as a newborn, try to nap (or at least rest) when baby sleeps to help you get adequate sleep.

  • Nurse baby on both breasts during each feeding to avoid issues like breast engorgement, mastitis or cracked nipples. If baby refuses to switch breasts, express milk using a breast pump and store it properly for future feedings.

  • Let your baby guide you as to length of feedings. On average, most exclusively breastfed babies feed about every 2 to 4 hours. Some feeding sessions may be long while others are short. Babies generally take what they need at each feeding and stop eating when they’re satisfied. They should seem content and drowsy after feeding when full. Your baby will initially breastfeed about 8 to 12 times in 24 hours.

  • Have a plan in place if you’re returning to work while breastfeeding. Discuss your needs with your employer prior to your return to the workplace. Make concrete arrangements for expressing milk while on the job or nursing your baby before you’re back to the office to minimize your worry and stress.

  • Purchase a breast pump to express breast milk. Expressed breast milk should be properly stored for future feedings if not immediately used. Follow recommendations for proper pump cleaning after each use. Expressed milk in properly sterilized bottles is a great way for your partner or other family members to feed your baby. Doing so not only provides you with a necessary break, but also helps others to establish and grow an important bond with baby. If you’re returning to work, a breast pump allows you to express milk and feed it to your baby as needed, encouraging continued milk production.

  • Join a breastfeeding support group. This is especially helpful for first-time moms. Developing friendships with “mentor moms” and other breastfeeding moms offers you important support and reassurance as well as socialization for both you and your baby. The Office of Women’s Health (OWH) offers a concise overview of available support for breastfeeding mothers.

Your Capital Women’s Care team of compassionate, knowledgeable doctors, nurses and support staff is here for you should you have any questions or concerns about breastfeeding or any women’s health issue. Our continued dedication to providing comprehensive women’s health care and services helps you achieve and enjoy a long quality life.

Sources:

https://www.cdc.gov/nccdphp/dnpao/features/breastfeeding-benefits/index....
https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/15274-the-benefits-of-bre...
https://www.healthline.com/health/breastfeeding/11-benefits-of-breastfee...
https://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/breastfeeding/conditioninfo/bene...
https://mchb.hrsa.gov/programs-impact/focus-areas/perinatal-infant-healt...
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/pregnancy-brea...
https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/breastfeeding-special-circumstances/ma...  
https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/coronavirus-covid-19-pregnancy-a...
https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/if-you-are-sick/pregnancy-brea...
https://www.contagionlive.com/view/vaccinated-mothers-pass-covid-19-anti....
https://www.cdc.gov/nutrition/InfantandToddlerNutrition/breastfeeding/ho...

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