Breastfeeding woman holding baby to chest

Benefits of breastfeeding

Benefits of Breastfeeding

We’ve always known that breastfeeding is the ideal way to feed our babies. Exactly why has never been clearer than it is now, as research and scientific evidence continues to prove what mothers have known for generations – breast milk is the perfect food for babies to grow. Apart from other benefits, breast milk continually adapts to meet the growing needs of the baby and provides protection from many infections and illnesses.

In families where breastfeeding is normalised and simply seen as the way to feed babies, the chances of it being successful are maximised. However, despite breastfeeding being the normal and preferred way of feeding, problems are common. Breastfeeding, for many mothers, requires a learnt set of skills and behaviours. It can take time before confidence is built and the process of breastfeeding feels as natural as it is claimed to be. Practice, confidence, support and guidance from health professionals and other mothers go a long way towards it becoming a pleasurable experience.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Baby

  • Breast milk is always the right temperature for a baby to drink. There is no risk of overheating. It is always fresh, safe and sterile.
  • It is completely natural and fits well for mothers who are keen to care for their babies in the most non-invasive way possible.
  • Breastfeeding “on demand” means that the baby does not need to wait for feeds. It’s quick and easy, feeds can be offered any time and any place.
  • Reduces the likelihood of infections which can cause diarrhoea, urinary tract infections, coughs/colds, asthma and some childhood cancers. The incidence of developing obesity, diabetes and heart disease later in life is reduced when individuals have been breastfed.
  • Reduces the risk of allergies developing as well as eczema and ear infections.
  • Promotes the development of the jaw.
  • The iron in breast milk is more easily absorbed than the iron contained in formula.
  • Breast milk is thought to help with the development of a baby’s intelligence, eyesight, nervous system and gut.
  • Babies who are breast fed are less likely to need hospitalization than those who are formula fed.
  • Breast milk is all the nutrition a baby needs for the first six months of their life.
  • Breast milk changes to suit the developmental and nutritional needs of an infant.
  • Breast fed babies do not become constipated and their poos are not as smelly as babies who are formula fed.

Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Mother

  • It assists with returning to pre-pregnancy weight. Fat stores which are built up over the second and third trimester of pregnancy are intended for use during lactation.
  • Helps the uterus to involute, e.g. return to pre-pregnancy size and shape. Breastfeeding also helps the uterus to contract and expel products of conception such as the placenta and membranes. Post-delivery vaginal bleeding does not last for as long in mothers who are breastfeeding.
  • Lessens the likelihood of developing ovarian and pre-menopausal breast cancer.
  • Reduces the likelihood of developing osteoporosis and type 2 diabetes.
  • Breast milk is free and saves money which would otherwise need to be spent on formula.

Benefits for Both Mother and Baby

  • Breastfeeding helps to build the emotional connection between a mother and her baby. Only a mother can breastfeed and it is the uniqueness of this special bond which cannot be shared with anyone else.
  • Convenience and portability. There is no preparation required and no waiting.
    Sometimes and for all sorts of reasons, a baby will not suck directly on the breast. Prematurity or illness can impact on a baby’s ability to suck and coordinate an effective sucking and swallowing pattern. Some babies are too sleepy to suck actively and need to conserve their energy.

Occasionally the decision is made by health professionals, in consultation with a mother, to defer breastfeeding until the baby is more alert and able to suck. Mothers are often advised to express their breasts, either by hand or pump so their baby can be offered expressed breast milk (EBM). This can be done via a feeding tube directly into the baby’s stomach or a feeding bottle. Alternatively, a syringe or eyedropper can be used. Expressing does not need to be time consuming. With some organisation and planning, the benefits of offering breast milk to a sick or pre-term baby far outweigh the minor inconvenience. Speak with your health care professional to see if this is an option for you and your baby.

If you find that you are not able to express sufficient milk to meet your baby’s quota (i.e. the amount they require for growth and energy, EBM can be combined with infant formula). Bear in mind though, that offering formula to a breastfed baby can impact on the success of breastfeeding. They can fill up on formula and not want to suck as effectively on the breast. The principle of supply and demand works best when only the breast is offered to the baby and they can self-regulate the amount of milk they require.

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