Breast milk is magical.
Most people know the basic facts - that breast milk is good for baby, that breast milk provides antibodies, and that breast milk has tons of nutrients. However, this doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface! The physical and emotional benefits of breastfeeding - for both baby and mom - are so vast. This blog post will outline the numerous benefits of breast milk. In other words, read on to find out about how awesome you are, mama!
Overall Breastfeeding Benefits
Breastfeeding is so beneficial because it is natural, safe, and reliable - assuming mama is supplied with proper information, guidance, and support.
There is no prep work involved - saving moms time.
The breasts offer the most perfect milk for baby, readily available at any moment.
There are no bottles to scrub and no cleanup involved when feeding directly from the breast.
In addition to baby’s hunger and thirst, breastfeeding can help when a baby is overstimulated, tired, injured, or sick, and needs comfort and security.
It is a biologically-normal way to help babies and toddlers - and mamas! - fall asleep.
When breastfeeding, our bodies can even help to regulate our baby’s temperature when they are too hot or too cold.
Breastfeeding is a zero-waste process, making it the most eco-friendly option.
It also offers baby and mama some much-needed special, unique bonding time.
For most moms, exclusively breastfeeding on demand will result in a break from the menstruation cycle for several months.
Those are just some of the non-physical benefits.
Now we can get into the super amazing health benefits of breastfeeding!
Breast Milk Composition
One teaspoon of breast milk - a living tissue - has between 50,000 and 65,000,000 cells. These cells are nutrients, hormones, and stem cells - and can be anti-microbial, prebiotic, probiotic, anti-inflammatory, and anti-infective. Some of the things that are in breast milk include:
- Antibodies: Your body is constantly responding to any bacteria and viruses you encounter. Within 20 minutes of being exposed to a yucky bug, mama’s immune system is churning out antibodies.
- Stem Cells: Used to build and repair body systems.
- Immune Cells: Mama passes on immune-system-building cells to baby, whose own immune system will take up to six years to fully develop.
- Oxytocin: This hormone is a stress-reliever and promotes happiness.
- Melatonin: This hormone is released more at night, and helps mom and baby fall asleep.
- Human Milk Oligosaccharides (HMOs): These are essentially sugar molecules that promote good bacteria growth in baby’s gut, aiding the immune system and digestion.
Health Benefits for Babies and Toddlers
When baby is first born, your body is already producing colostrum, a thick, golden-colored milk. Colostrum is true liquid gold. It contains high levels of proteins, vitamins, minerals, antibodies, leukocytes (protective white blood cells), and more. Colostrum is extremely nutrient-dense, which means that a little tiny bit goes a looonngg way (perfect for those super tiny newborn tummies!)
The first nursing session right after baby’s birth:
- Coats and lines the gut to protect against illness
- Helps baby pass their meconium
- Is packed with antibodies and white blood cells to support immune system
- Is extremely nutrient-dense to nourish baby’s tiny tummy and prevent low blood sugar
ANY amount of breast milk that your baby receives will be highly beneficial to them.
As you continue on your breastfeeding journey, your milk continues to be an incredible substance for your little one. The composition and ingredients in your milk will constantly change - even from one hour to the next! Your breast milk is always perfectly tailored to meet the nutritional needs of your baby at every moment of the day. Super cool. (This gets even more amazing when we start looking at tandem feeding - nursing multiple babies/toddlers).
Breast milk has been shown to protect against and/or lower the risk of:
- Mental health issues
- Ear infections
- Speech issues
- Improper oral development
- Intestinal issues like Crohn’s or ulcerative colitis
- Heart disease
- Respiratory problems
- Strep, staph, colds, and other viruses
And the benefits continue for as long as you nurse your little one! They don’t stop at some arbitrary age (you may have heard the myth that the benefits of breastfeeding end when baby turns one year of age).
For toddlers between the ages of 12 months and 23 months, 448 mL of breast milk will provide the following nutritional requirements:
43% of Protein
36% of Calcium
75% of Vitamin A
94% of Vitamin B12
60% of Vitamin C
76% of Folate
Health Benefits for Mama
But, wait! It’s not even all about baby. Breastfeeding provides many benefits for mama, too.
After giving birth, breastfeeding your baby will cause your uterus to contract. While this creates more cramping, it is a crucial process. This ensures that your uterus returns to its normal size. (Remember, that organ has just been stretched to its max for the past 40 weeks!)
The hormones that your body releases during a nursing session help you to relax physically; they also lower your blood pressure.
The act of breastfeeding your baby can protect against and/or lower the risk of:
- Breast cancer
- Uterine cancer
- Ovarian cancer
- Cervical cancer
- Heart disease
- Autoimmune diseases
As you can see, breastfeeding is an amazing process. There are a variety of benefits for both baby and mom - physically and emotionally. And the best part is, these benefits occur for the duration of the breastfeeding journey. Our bodies are amazing and produce this perfect substance to feed and nourish our babies. Did you know about all of the health benefits? If you didn’t, I would love to hear which one surprised you the most. Come join us in the Official Milky Mama Lactation Support Facebook Group to let us know what you thought!