We’ve been taking a look at how to change the world through the simple act of breastfeeding your baby. (Let me never be accused of small dreams!) We’ve thought about global hunger, education for kids, promoting gender equality.
There’s a wonderful secret, though, about breastfeeding. It’s good for babies, good for the environment – but it’s also good for us moms. (And Millennium Development Goals #5 is, Improve Maternal Health.)
Breastfeeding moms are happy moms.
Some of the most amazing research in the past decade has to do with the role of inflammation and health. We are even learning that depression can worsen with inflammation.
And who knew – breastfeeding is an anti-inflammatory for mothers. Studies (as well as personal experience) show that holding babies, playing with babies, and breastfeeding babies lowers cortisol (a potent stress hormone) and evens out a mom’s emotions. Even when a mom has risk factors for postpartum depression (like lack of sleep, pain, a history of depression or trauma) breastfeeding – particularly when it’s going well – is good medicine. You can read more about it here http://www.internationalbreastfeedingjournal.com/content/2/1/6
Kathleen Kendall Tackett, the author, is a prominent psychologist, researcher and breastfeeding activist.
Breastfeeding moms have healthy hearts.
Now certainly we can mess this up with our lifestyles and diets – but moms who breastfeed can look forward to a healthier cardiovascular system. And the longer you breastfeed, the healthier you can expect your heart to be. The duration of breastfeeding affects blood pressure, fasting glucose, the way our bodies use insulin, triglyceride levels, total and LDL cholesterol. You may know these challenges, taken together, as “metabolic syndrome.” It’s a very good thing to keep away from!
Breastfeeding moms get skinny in a healthy way.
“Visceral fat” is what you put on during pregnancy – comes off with breastfeeding, very difficult to lose if you formula feed (Allison Stuebe & colleages). The research finds, the longer you breastfeed, the better your BMI will be, and the smaller your waist circumference. You can read more about healthy hearts and smaller waistlines at
Breastfeeding moms have healthy breasts – and uteruses and ovaries.
For every 12 months a woman breastfeeds, her risk of breast cancer in a landmark 2010 study dropped 4.3 percent, Allison Stuebe noted in 2010 Journal of Perinatology paper. And for women who have a family history of breast cancer, breastfeeding seemed to decrease the risk of getting it, according to an analysis of data from more than 60,000 women led by Stuebe, published August 2009 in the Archives of Internal Medicine. Whereas the potent drug Tamoxifen can reduce risk for those with a mother or sister who had breast cancer by about half, “moms who had breastfed at all had about 60 percent less risk,” Stuebe says. “That’s a pretty significant statistic,” she adds. (http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/breastfeeding-benefits-mothers/ )
The protective benefits do seem to drop off for women once they reach age 70.
Meanwhile, women who never breastfed were 1.5 fold more likely to have ovarian cancer than women who breastfed for eighteen months. (Interestingly, it seems to be your last child who is most protective on this one.)
Breastfeeding moms keep their bones healthy.
Researchers worried that lactation was a calcium-robbing state of affairs for moms, and worried that women who breastfed, especially for long periods of time, would wind up with bad cases of osteoporosis. Instead – mother’s bodies bounced back to normal once they stopped breastfeeding. There’s great information about pregnancy, breastfeeding and bone health at http://www.niams.nih.gov/health_info/Bone/Bone_Health/Pregnancy/default.asp
Breastfeeding is good medicine for moms and babies!
Did you notice I have stayed away from saying “more” or “less” in this essay? That’s because breastfeeding is, after all, the physiologic norm. Our bodies are made to stay healthy when we feed our babies in the normal way. That’s why we’re working hard here at The Birthing Center to make sure breastfeeding gets off to a great start, and you have the tools and knowledge you need to go home with a baby who’s enjoying meals, in love with your baby, and stay happily nursing as long as the two of you want.
One last benefit: breastfeeding helps space babies, reducing the risks of pregnancies that come too close together. In our local world, where we don’t worry about breastfeeding as an ecological act (we use pacifiers, bottles, and hope babies will sleep through the night as soon as possible!), this doesn’t always work so well. But in many countries around the world it is life-saving for babies and for mothers.
Join us for our World Breastfeeding Week Celebration!
We are partying in the Tyler Conference Room here at BMH, from 10 AM – 12PM on Wednesday, August 5th. We have special Breastfeeding Champion presentations at 10:30 AM, a Baby-Wearing Fashion Show with Melody Washkevich just following, Breastfeeding Jewelry-making with Robin Morgan, and of course Decorate Your Own Cupcakes. Hope to see you there!