Is Breastfeeding Worth It?
Breastfeeding is hard which is why it leaves many mothers asking themselves if it’s even worth it. That is why it’s important to learn what the benefits of breastfeeding are for babies, before resorting to formula.
Some mothers struggle with a poor latch, while others feel overwhelmed by the constant touching. These are all valid concerns!
If you are going back to work, then a whole other set of obstacles can come in the way of your breastfeeding relationship so its not a surprise that the United States breastfeeding rates are so low.
It is easy to see the pro’s of formula, due to it being easily purchased in the store. This can take a huge weight off a mother’s shoulders when juggling motherhood, career and a new identity. Before you opt to formula though, take moment to get informed on what the benefits of breastfeeding are for babies. Research unanimously agree that nothing is as good for babies during their first 6 months than breast milk.
Formula is not an exact substitute to breast milk. In fact, the WHO has stated that if more babies were given breast milk instead of formula during their first 6 months of life, we could save thousands of lives a day. Babies are at high risk for avoidable conditions such as infectious diseases. Breast milk has been specifically developed to keep your baby alive while during their first year of life when they are so vulnerable.
The list of health benefits is amazingly long. A baby that is breastfed for the first 6 months – to a 1 year can enjoy the comforts of the below protection (just to name a few…)
- Stronger immune systems
- Less diarrhea, constipation and reflux.
- Fewer colds and respiratory illnesses like pneumonia, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and whooping cough
- Fewer ear infections, especially those that damage hearing
- Fewer case of bacterial meningitis
- Better vision and less retinopathy of prematurely
- Lower rates of infant mortality
- Lower rates of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
- Less illness overall and less hospitalization
- Parents have up to six times less absenteeism from work
- Fewer instances of allergies, eczema, and asthma
- Fewer childhood cancers, including leukemia and lymphomas
- Lower risks of type I and II diabetes
- Fewer instances of Crohn’s disease and colitis
- Lower rates of respiratory illness
- Fewer speech and orthodontic problems
- Fewer cavities
- Less likelihood of becoming obese later in childhood
- Improved brain maturation
- Greater immunity to infection
This is no joke ladies and gentlemen, UNICEF states that if mothers were supported more in their effort to breastfeed, we could save +3000 baby lives DAILY(!!) worldwide.
This is not a number collected by third world countries. Babies are dying daily in western developed countries due to infections that attack underdeveloped immune systems which formula can’t help protect against.
A child’s immune system takes time to fully develop. Breastfeeding gives your baby active agents that help fight bacteria. Every time a mother is in contact with certain germs, she develops antibodies against it which transfer to her breast milk.
A human’s immune system doesn’t peak in strength until puberty, however this doesn’t mean you need to breastfeed until then. It means that the longer you breastfeed, the longer you can help your child stay healthy while their immune system gets stronger.
Help Baby Develop their Circadian Rhythm
The composition of breast milk changes throughout the day and scientist have found it follows a 24-hour cycle. Breast milk offers the exact type of nutrients your baby needs at any given time. This change in the breast milk composition can help with their circadian rhythm and regulate their sleep / wake times, which need to be learned after coming out of the womb.
It can take weeks for baby to establish their circadian rhythm, so if breast milk can help them figure it out faster, it means more sleep for everyone at night!
In the morning its higher in cortisol (which makes baby alert) to set them up for the day. The level of cortisol in breast milk is three time higher in the morning than it is in the evening, which is an important factor to consider if pumping!
In the evening breast milk increases its melatonin to help baby’s body and mind prepare for sleep. Melatonin is at its peak around 3am and at its lowest around 10am-12pm.
Enjoy Benefits of Skin-to-Skin Contact
Skin to skin contact has so many benefits for both baby and mother that go beyond that of breastfeeding. However, a mother that breastfeeds their baby are naturally going to expose their baby to more skin-to-skin contact.
At the time of this writing, by breastfed toddler is 2.5 years old and we naturally end up having skin-to-skin contact at least 2-3 times a day when snuggling in to nurse. Breastfeeding is the only time he stays still, so I can’t imagine their would be a lot of skin to skin at this age if he had weaned.
Let’s list a few benefits of skin-to-skin contact:
- Strengthens relationship between you and baby by releasing the hormone oxytocin which helps with bonding as well as prolactin, which calms and relaxes.
- Colostrum and then breast milk supply increases and flows more easily
- Boost mental development in baby (due to well-balanced neural connections that establish during the first weeks of baby’s life)
- Increases newborn weight gain
- Boosts baby’s immune system and protects against illness and disease.
Helps with Self Regulation
Breastfeeding helps a baby and subsequently a toddler relax in order to regulate themselves. It creates a safe space that not only nourishes their bellies but also their souls. Breastfeeding strengthens the bond between mother and child in positive ways, which can later translate to a more open communication in the teenage years.
All these effects help a child develop a strong relationship with their main care giver, also known as Secure Attachment. The positive relationship with their parent translate to positive relationships with their peers. This sense of self-worth will aid in their psycho-social development all through life.
Self regulation also affects our ability to practice self-control and delayed gratification which are known to be the strongest predictors of future success. More so than IQ.
There are three main observations on how breastfeeding affect our ability to practice self-control.
- The type of fatty acids present in breast milk that boosts brain function. These fatty acids help influence our frontal lobe development that manages delayed gratification.
- Secure attachment with a breastfeeding mother as the time the mother invested in her child increases their self-worth.
- The ability to self regulate on their own helps a person psychologically sustain delayed gratification.
So many good topics here, and this post only scrapes the top of the iceberg! Breastfeeding is a choice, however it has far-reaching implications for your child. Even if you only breastfeed for a month, its better than nothing at all.
During a short period you can help your baby fight infections, set up their circadian rhythm, give them a safe space to learn about their environment and build a strong psychological foundation via the nutrients and relationship that breastfeeding offers.
If you want to breastfeed but are struggling, don’t lose hope! Luckily their are several organizations out their to support mothers by connecting them with experienced lactation consultants and support groups.
- La Leche League International
- “Our Mission is to help mothers worldwide to breastfeed through mother-to-mother support, encouragement, information, and education, and to promote a better understanding of breastfeeding as an important element in the healthy development of the baby and mother.”
- International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners
- “IBLCE establishes the highest standards in lactation and breastfeeding care worldwide and certifies individuals who meet these standards.
- Breastfeeding USA
- The mission of Breastfeeding USA is to provide evidence-based breastfeeding information and support, and to promote breastfeeding as the biological and cultural norm. We accomplish this through a network of accredited breastfeeding counselors and comprehensive resources for the benefit of mothers and babies, families, and communities.
I also highly suggest joining breastfeeding Facebook groups. These are closed and monitored, so posts you write about your breastfeeding struggles will not show up in your public feed (however the public can see that you are part of that group if they go into your profile info).
Facebook Support Groups
Two groups I highly recommend is The Beyond Sleep Training Project. Even if its focused on safe bed sharing, most mothers are breastfeeding and I learned so much their when I was starting off.
Later as your baby turns 12 months, I highly suggest Breastfeeding Older Babies & Beyond.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best in your breastfeeding experience. Hopefully you have an understanding of what the Benefits of Breastfeeding are for your baby. Feel free to contact me if you have questions or just want to chat!
Suggested Read: After years of breastfeeding, I am sharing with my readers the must have products for mother and baby. These don’t solely pertain to breastfeeding specifically so you won’t find a list like it anywhere else!