Countless medical researchers and experts including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, strongly recommend breastfeeding exclusively for at least the first six months of a baby’s life. Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria, and provides the ideal mix of vitamins, protein and fat. Babies who are solely breastfed also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor. But did you know that breastfeeding also provides the mother with a wide range of physical and health benefits?
Reduce Cancer Risk
Women who do not breastfeed may place themselves at higher risk of breast, endometrial and ovarian cancer, compared to mothers who breastfeed for the first six months. There are volumes of research that support this conclusion, including a frequently-cited 2009 study of more than 60,000 women published in the Archives of Internal Medicine. It reveals that women with a family history of breast cancer reduced their risk of getting the disease before menopause by nearly 60 percent if they breastfed their babies.
“There seems to be growing evidence that breastfeeding is associated with a lower risk of the really aggressive kinds of breast cancer,” said Alison Stuebe, M.D., an assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the study’s lead author.
Research into exactly how breastfeeding reduces cancer risks is still ongoing. One theory holds that women who breastfeed have fewer menstrual cycles throughout their lives, and therefore less exposure to estrogen, which fuels some types of breast cancers. And don’t discount the fact that women who breastfeed typically adopt healthy lifestyle habits, such as giving up smoking and drinking, and eating healthier foods. In fact, these behaviors are shown to reduce breast cancer risk even if you don’t have children and have never breastfed.
For mothers who stress about the weight they gain during pregnancy, there’s more good news: milk production burns about 300 to 500 calories a day, so nursing mothers tend to have an easier time losing pregnancy weight. But the benefits of losing this weight extend to something much more important than fitting into your pre-pregnancy wardrobe.
The fat that tends to accumulate during pregnancy is in part visceral fat, which gathers around organs in the midsection and can put you at increased risk for diabetes, hypertension and heart disease. Lactating women appear to be better at mobilizing these new fat stores.
Breastfeeding provides many mothers with feelings of happiness and fulfillment due to the physical and emotional connection they experience with their children. Research shows this is not “all in their heads” or a temporary benefit. There are physical factors that can prevent the onset of postpartum depression.
While breastfeeding, the body releases hormones such as Prolactin, which produces a peaceful, nurturing sensation that allows you to relax and focus on your child; and Oxytocin, which promotes a strong sense of love and attachment. The Cleveland Clinic reports that because breastfeeding produces these naturally soothing hormones, a new mother is more likely to avoid feelings of depression. Additionally, this combination of a physical and emotional bond between mother and child may help reduce social and behavioral problems in both children and adults over the long term.
Coping with Negative Breastfeeding Experiences
However, a mother and her child will not realize all the physical and mental health benefits of breastfeeding if the mother finds the experience difficult and frustrating. That can lead to the mother giving up and turning to formula, and increasing the risk that she and her baby will struggle with health issues.
The Healthy Children’s Project cites research in its course materials for the week-long Certified Lactation Counselor (CLC) training that states women who do not breastfeed (and those who wean early) are at greater risk of postpartum depression. 85% of women experience mood changes associated with hormone changes, lack of support and/or lifestyle changes. When a mother gives up on trying to breastfeed, the research shows she is more likely to have depressive symptoms after just two months.
That’s why the Imalac team is dedicated to helping new mothers avoid those early negative breastfeeding and pumping experiences. We are in the final development stage of our Nurture by Imalac, the world’s first device designed to alleviate those stresses and make pumping simpler and more convenient by mimicking hand expression when used alone or while pumping.