The Power of Breast Milk
When it comes to feeding your baby, breast milk is the first thought that instinctively comes to mind.
Both WHO and UNICEF recommend that adolescents begin breastfeeding within the first hour of birth and be breastfed exclusively for the first 6 months of life. Breastfeeding is strongly advocated as the best source of nutrition for infants and young children.
In addition, it benefits both mother and baby, so you’re essentially killing two birds with one stone.
Why Breast Milk is a Blessing for Babies
Breast milk is nature’s purest nourishment that gives life to your little one. As the “gold standard” for infant nutrition, it has nutrients to support your baby’s growth and development, as well as protect your child against potential diseases and infections.
Here are some ways breast milk benefits babies:
- Strengthens the Immune System: Breast milk has antibodies that fight infection. The first milk expressed out after birth, colostrum, contains these antibodies, as well as the breast milk produced after.
In these antibodies, the mother passes on some protection from infectious illnesses she previously had before onto the baby. Therefore, it gives the baby a flying start in preventing and combating infections.
The components of breast milk, including white blood cells, proteins, fats and more, are particularly beneficial in fighting gastrointestinal infections. Naturally occurring proteins like lactoferrin and interleukin-6, -8 and -10 also boost the immune system’s inflammatory response. The result is a strengthened and balanced immune system that is highly useful in countering infections and diseases.
- Probiotic Factor: Breast milk also comprises of probiotics in the form of milk microbiota and prebiotics as HMOs. It provides a continuous supply of beneficial bacteria to the infant gut, helping the digestive and immune functions develop and mature.
Microbiomes can play a key role in reducing the risk of chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, obesity, eczema and allergies. Breastfed babies are typically less likely to have ear infections, diarrhea and urinary tract infections.
As certain types of cancer are afflicted by disturbances to the immune system, childhood lymphoma and leukemia are less inclined to arise in children who breastfeed for over 6 months.
How Breast Milk Rewards Mothers
As mothers breastfeed their feed their babies, they also reap advantages associated with it. Beyond emotional fulfilment, mothers also experience a range of health benefits from breastfeeding.
- Lowers Female Cancer Risk: Research shows that breastfeeding mothers reduce their risk of breast cancer and enjoy added protection when the duration stretches beyond the recommended 6 months.
During breastfeeding, many women experience hormonal shifts that delay their menstrual periods and hence lowers a woman’s lifetime susceptibility to hormones like estrogen. Such hormones can encourage breast cancer cell growth.
Nursing also prevents ovulation, causing reduced exposure to estrogen and other abnormal cells that could turn cancerous, lowering your ovarian cancer risk.
As you breastfeed, you also shed breast tissue that can eliminate cells with potential DNA damage. This therefore helps to lower your chances of having breast cancer.
- Weight Loss: Milk production consumes between 300 to 500 calories on average daily. This helps nursing mothers burn that stubborn pregnancy weight that doesn’t go away after childbirth.
As most mothers are unable to carry out high intensity exercise immediately after childbirth and require sufficient nourishment in regular meals to regain their strength, it is an ideal way to lose weight without dieting or working out.
Of course, weight loss is affected by other factors, including stress levels, eating and sleeping habits. It is important to strike a balance between sufficient rest and breastfeeding to burn calories optimally.
- Triggers Uterus to Shrink: Notice that your postpartum belly seems to flatten faster as you breastfeed?
Breastfeeding causes nipple stimulation and the release of a hormone, oxytoxin, into your bloodstream. This hormone helps all smooth muscles to contract.
Since the uterus is a muscle that becomes over-stretched during pregnancy, it triggers the uterus to contract and shrink back to your pre-pregnancy size. Another plus point: these contractions aid in reducing postpartum blood loss, therefore helping your body to heal.
While it is entirely your choice whether you choose to breastfeed or not, it is imperative to bear in mind that even though breastfeeding offers a multitude of benefits, your emotional and mental health are as important. Make sure that you take on what you can afford to do, because the secret to a happy baby is a happy mother!