The Benefits of Breastfeeding

August was National Breastfeeding Awareness Month, sponsored by the US Department of Health and Human Services. The goal of this nationwide campaign is to encourage women to commit to breastfeeding and to highlight health studies that show the positive benefits associated with breastfeeding.

In solidarity with this effort, we’ve created a quick post to encourage mothers in Marin County and beyond to consider breastfeeding whenever possible. Below are some of the great health benefits that you and your baby can experience as a result of breastfeeding.

Bonding with you baby is especially important in the early months of their lives, and breastfeeding can help strengthen the bond between mother and infant. Releasing a “bonding hormone,” known as oxytocin, breastfeeding helps to provide a feeling of closeness between you and baby. The oxytocin release also helps mom’s uterus contract, which means it will return to its normal size more quickly.

Breastfeeding also results in a healthier baby! Your breast milk is full of antibodies, which can help protect your child from colds, flus, and more. Breastfeeding might also help to fight off something a little more serious – cancer. A study in the Journal of Human Lactation found that breast milk contains extremely high levels of TNF-related apoptosis-inducing ligand (TRAIL), which plays a key role in the immune system and has cancer-fighting properties.

Not only does breast milk help baby fight off viruses and possibly cancer, but studies suggest that mothers who breastfeed are 1.5 times less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than those who don’t.

But breastfeeding isn’t just beneficial for newborns. Recent research shows that babies who were breastfed for 6 months or longer had a lower risk for upper respiratory tract infections and gastrointestinal tract infections. Additionally, respiratory and gastrointestinal infections also increase the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), so breastfeeding can help to lower that risk as well.

A 2013 study from JAMA Pediatrics shows that not only are there physical health benefits for baby, but mental and intellectual benefits as well. A Boston Children’s Hospital study shows that breastfeeding for longer durations was associated with higher Peabody Picture Vocabulary Test scores in 3 year olds, which is indicative of better language reception and understanding. The Kaufman Brief Intelligence Test administered at the age of 7 also showed improved IQ – both verbal and non-verbal – in children that were breastfed.

If you have any additional questions about breastfeeding or are looking for support systems in the Marin area, please visit our Meritage Member Network Hospitals’ webpages for information on their lactation consultation services and more.