One of the most important decisions you will make as a new parent is how you are going to feed your baby. Understanding the benefits of breastfeeding can be key in helping you to make this decision. Families have told us that knowing why breastfeeding is important to them has helped them to hang in through a challenging start to breastfeeding.
The Canadian Pediatric Society, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the World Health Organization all recommend that babies receive only breast milk for the first 6 months of their life. Research has evolved over recent years to show even more benefits of breastfeeding. We now understand that breastfeeding affects not only the baby’s health but mom’s health as well.
Top 9 Benefits of Breastfeeding
1. Improved health for babies
Breast milk is a living substance, full of antibodies that help fight off illness. These antibodies change according to the viruses or bacteria you are exposed to. This customized protection helps to protect baby from the germs in your environment
While formula provides the necessary calories, vitamins, and minerals needed for babies to grow, it cannot replicate the antibodies in breast milk.
When babies are fed infant formula, the chance of developing asthma, allergies, ear, chest and stomach infections increases. This does not mean that breastfed babies won’t ever get sick. With the protection of breast milk, the illness won’t be as severe and won’t last as long.
Breastfeeding also decreases your baby’s chance of developing diabetes, obesity, and some cancers.
2. Exposure to flavours
The flavour of your breast milk will change with your diet. This variation in flavours is thought to make the introduction of solids foods (at 6 months) much easier. Formula, on the other hand, will taste the same, day after day.
3. Improved health for mom
Research has shown that women who breastfeed have a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. Breastfeeding also helps your body absorb calcium more efficiently, meaning less chance of osteoporosis (weakening of the bones).
4. Less chance of hemorrhage
When you breastfeed, hand express or use a breast pump, your body releases the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin causes your uterus to contract, thereby reducing your chance of heavy bleeding after birth.
5. Burns calories while you sit on the couch!
Breastfeeding burns about 500 calories a day, equivalent to running on a treadmill for 45 minutes or an hour of Zumba. This will make it easier to lose the extra pregnancy weight. It is like going to the gym without leaving your house!
6. A leave of absence from your period
One of the benefits of breastfeeding that moms love is the delayed return of their period. This delay is most noticeable for women who:
- have a baby less than six months old
- breastfeed both during the day and night
- do not replace a feeding at the breast with another food or liquid
The Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) of family planning helps to naturally space out pregnancies. You can learn more here.
7. Breast milk will save you money!
It has been estimated that formula can cost over $3000 USD per year! Think of what you could spend that money on instead! Fewer trips to the doctor and fewer hospital visits compound the savings.
Research has shown that families who learn about breastfeeding before their baby arrives have an increased chance of meeting their breastfeeding goals! Invest in a quality prenatal breastfeeding class and learn some basics before the sleep deprivation begins.
8. Breast milk is ready to serve
Once you get past the early weeks, breastfeeding becomes much easier. When your baby is hungry there is no preparation required. Your milk is already the perfect temperature and ready to give to your baby. This will make life easier when you are away from home. There is no risk of running out the door and forgetting your baby’s milk!
Formula feeding, on the other hand, requires a consistent amount of work. To avoid contamination, careful storage and handling of formula is crucial. The water used to dilute powdered or concentrated formula must be boiled and cooled before mixing. Baby bottles and nipples need to be sterilized for the first 4 months. If safe practices are not followed, there is a potential for bacteria to grow and make your baby sick.
9. Ensures lots of snuggle time
New mothers seem to always have a lot to do! Breastfeeding is a great reason to stop, sit down and simply hold your baby.
Supporting each other
How you choose to feed your baby does not determine your worth as a mother!
Some families, for personal or other reasons, choose not to breastfeed. These families need just as much care and support as they navigate choosing, preparing and feeding formula to their baby.
Other families plan to breastfeed but find themselves struggling to meet their breastfeeding goals. This can be due to a variety of reasons such as:
- a lack of support.
- misinformation from online sources, friends, family or healthcare professionals..
- medical conditions.
- an underlying tongue tie.
- a difficult delivery.
It is very difficult emotionally when breastfeeding does not go as planned. Our hearts go out to these families.
Please know that every drop of breast milk you give your baby counts. Breastfeeding success can look very different for different families
In some communities, families can access donor human milk through a milk bank when their own milk is not available. Mothers wanting to donate breast milk are screened and approved and then the milk is pasteurized. This eliminates the chance of passing on infection. A small amount of nutrition is lost in the process, however, donor milk is considered the next best choice after mom’s own milk. If you would like to learn more, including how to find a milk bank in your area, visit: Human Milk Banking Association of North America.