Breastfeeding is the normal way to feed a baby. Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months (no water, food or other supplements) and continued breastfeeding for up to 2 years and beyond is the recommendation by health organisations around the world, including the World Health Organization. Breastmilk is super cool. Here’s but a handful of reasons why…
Image by Michelle Palasia Photography
- Breastfeeding reduces a mothers ovarian and breast cancer risk
Breastfeeding does not just benefit babies. The low breastfeeding rates we see in developed nations such as Australia is a major contributing factor to the high incidence of breast cancer we see in our community.
A major study of almost 150, 000 women found that breast cancer rates could be reduced by two thirds simply by increasing the duration of breastfeeding among childbearing women. The positive hormonal effects also extend to women’s lifetime risk of ovarian cancer, uterine cancer, and cervical cancer. The longer a woman breastfeeds, the more protected she is from these cancers. Think of it as a free insurance policy!
Image by Michelle Palasia Photography
- Breastfeeding can help prevent a fussy eater later on.
It actually starts when your baby is in the womb. The more varied your diet, the more flavours your baby experiences through the amniotic fluid. And when you are breastfeeding the flavours of your diet are transferred to your baby too. For instance, eating spicy food or curries translates to a peppery flavour of your breastmilk. So, if you want to broaden your baby’s palate and prevent a fussy eater when solids start being introduced- broaden your own palate and enjoy foods from all corners of the world. Your babe will enjoy them too!
- Breastfeeding is free- and can save you up to $4,000 per year
Infant formula doesn’t come cheap, and it’s certainly not free like breastmilk is. It also requires bottles, teats, washing and sterilisation, pre-planning and time – all of which can be an annoyance when you have a newborn to care for.
Formula also lacks the protective elements of breastmilk that help a baby fight off infections. Formula fed babies are more likely to end up in doctor’s surgeries or hospitals in their first year of life for things like ear infections, intestinal upsets, respiratory problems and allergies. Doctors’ fees, formula and their accessories add up to a great amount at the end of the year, which can be a tight stretch for a family on an already reduced income if one parent is home looking after the baby.
Breastfeeding, however, goes anywhere, requires no special preparation, and costs absolutely nothing.
- Breastfeeding does not have a ‘use-by’ date
There is nothing that comes close to emulating the magic of breastmilk. It is full of living cells that has every vitamin, mineral and other nutritional element a baby needs. It changes according to the time of day, the age of your child, whether your child is sick, and it continuously boosts your baby’s immature immune system. A squirt of your breastmilk can even treat an eye infection!
No matter the age of your baby, toddler, or pre-schooler- breastmilk continues to provide powerful anti-infective agents to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and viruses. In fact, in the second year of life the levels of antibodies and immune factors increases which is pretty important when you child is putting all sorts of things into his mouth and picking up germs from other kids in child care. Evolutionarily and biologically the natural age of human weaning is between 4 to 7 years of age.
For as long as breastmilk is made and consumed, it continues to be of benefit.
- A baby ‘talks’ to its mother to let her know what type of breastmilk it needs
When I first learnt this my mind was blown, and to be honest it still is! As a baby suckles on its mother’s nipple, its saliva sends messages through the mother’s areola. If the baby is fighting an illness or infection, the mother’s immune system recognises this and will then make the right antibodies to pass to the baby via her breastmilk. It’s not uncommon to see a household fighting a cold or virus and a breastfed baby is the only one who does not get sick. Mind blown right?!
Breastmilk is medicine designed by mum specifically for her bub. Perfect and free!
- Breastfeeding reduces the risk of SIDS
Sudden infant death syndrome is higher if a baby isn’t breastfed. This ties in with normal sleeping behaviour for babies. It is absolutely normal, and necessary, for a baby to wake frequently through the night right through to its second or third year of life. Babies are not meant to fall into and stay in a deep sleep. In fact they also do most of their learning consolidation in the lighter stages of sleep.
Night time breast feeds are very important because it is then that prolactin levels (the milk-making hormone) peaks. When mothers start to drop the night feeds, her overall milk production will fall as well. This can lead to premature weaning of the infant because the less breastmilk extracted, the less that is made, and the more you will find yourself supplementing with other things. It’s a downhill spiral to premature weaning.
Our societies obsession with getting infants or babies to ‘sleep through the night’ is dangerous, and goes against every biological, emotional and developmental need of the baby. Babies need to be kept close, and breastfed often. Yes, it’s tiring, yes it’s difficult, and yes it’s inconvenient. But it’s not forever. The benefits though, will be.
To conclude, these cool breastfeeding facts are not the end of the wonders of breastmilk and breastfeeding. I didn’t even touch on the importance of it from a developmental, attachment, bonding, or emotional point of view. Breastmilk is far more than just food, nutrition and medicine. It is love and connection and safety too.
Denise Georges is a Lamaze Certified Childbirth Educator working in Sydney. She is passionate about helping women find their innate birthing power through evidence-based education. She runs private and group classes that are interactive, fun and will get you primed and excited for your birthing and parenting journey ahead.
- Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50 302 women with breast cancer and 96 973 women without the disease. Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer. 2002. The Lancet, Volume 360, Issue 9328, 187 – 195
- https://www.breastfeeding.asn.au/bfinfo/health-outcomes-associated-infant-feeding Australian Breastfeeding Association
- La Leche League International, The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding, 8th Edition (2010)
- http://evolutionaryparenting.com/shifting-priorities-why-sleep-isnt-the-most-important-thing-for-your-child/ Tracey Cassels PhD, Evolutionary Parenting, (7 Dec 2017)