Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding Helps Give Your Baby The Best Possible Start
Breast milk is the perfect food for infants. It brings a wide array of benefits for your baby’s health, immune system and emotional wellbeing. Breastfeeding also has benefits for mothers, such as faster recovery following childbirth and helping mothers bond with their babies. While breastfeeding, you also secrete endorphins, the famous "happy hormone".
Benefits for Baby
From birth, your breast milk meets the nutritional needs of your baby: it’s a true gift from nature that helps your infant to grow.
Nutrition Evolves as Babies Grow
Breast milk evolves as babies grow. The first few days, breast milk looks like a yellow- fluid, thick and viscous: this is the colostrum protein concentrate, containing vitamins, minerals and antibodies. Then, after five days, breast milk becomes more fluid: the “transitional” milk, now rich in sugars and fats.
"Mature" breast milk starts from around the 15th day, and continues to evolve over many months in tandem with your baby’s growth. Breast milk is also perfectly suited to your child’s immature digestive system, providing a balance of different proteins.
Supporting Health From The Start
It has been shown that children who are breastfed are less prone to bacterial infections and classic childhood diseases such as ear infections, nasopharyngitis and gastroenteritis. They also develop fewer allergies. This protection also plays a role in the longer term. Studies have shown that breastfed babies are less likely to suffer later from diabetes, obesity, allergies and heart disease. By nursing your baby, you give him the best chance for good health throughout his life.*
The Secret To This Protection
Your milk provides antibodies to your baby that he needs and he cannot make on his own. Antibodies are proteins produced by the body when exposed for the first time to a virus or bacteria. When this virus or bacteria attacks again, the antibodies are ready to rapidly neutralize it. Up till a little over six months of age, these maternal antibodies protect your baby against many diseases. Then, gradually, your child’s immune system develops to take over.
With your breast milk, you also give your baby good bacteria: lactic acid bacteria such as bifidobacteria.
Awakening The Taste Buds
In nursing your baby, you are also providing various flavors to your baby that he would not otherwise be exposed. Depending on what you eat, the taste of your milk changes.
Essential Fatty Acids
Essential fatty acids cannot be manufactured by the body, so we must ingest them through food and pass them on through breast milk. They play an important role in the formation of tissues, the construction of the brain and nervous system, and the regulation of cholesterol.
How Long to Breastfeed?
The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life. Partial and exclusive breastfeeding for a shorter period are also beneficial to your child’s wellbeing, as is prolonged breastfeeding after introduction of solid foods between the 17th and the 26th week.
* World Health Organization.
Learn more about breastfeeding benefits on Gerber.com
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mothers
From helping with recovery after giving birth to possible long-term health benefits, breast-feeding can be beneficial to the health and wellbeing of mothers, too.
Faster Recovery After Childbirth
After giving birth, when you are breastfeeding, you secrete a particular hormone, oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract and return to its original size more quickly. These contractions are generally not very painful, and usually last three to four days.
Helping To Take Off “Baby Weight”
There’s more good news: breastfeeding can help you lose some unwanted pounds you took on during your pregnancy, although the significance of this weight loss is debated by health care professionals. This is a natural process that happens over several months. When your body produces breast milk for your baby it is burning extra calories and helping you lose the weight gained during pregnancy.
Possible Protection Against Certain Diseases
Some studies show that long-term breastfeeding (between six and 12 months) might also have a positive effect on the health of the mother. It can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer, ovarian or uterine cancer.*
Oxytocin also allows for better bone remineralization postpartum, reducing your risk of osteoporosis after your body goes through menopause. This bone disease affects one in three women over the age of 50.
The Happiness Effect
Oxytocin promotes relaxation when released in the body. While breastfeeding, you also secrete endorphins, the famous "happy hormone".
* Breast-feeding: ESPGHAN Committee on Nutrition, Journal of Pediatric Gastroenterology and Nutrition, 2009, ESPGHAN.
Breastfeeding can help create a unique bond between mother and baby, can be part of the relationship you build with your baby, right from birth.
The First Feeding is an Essential Meeting
From birth, you and your baby are ready to bond. For you, milk production is triggered by the secretion of prolactin. For your baby, the sucking reflex is immediate: typically, all you need to do is put baby on your chest and your infant will try to suckle.
With breastfeeding, your baby immediately identifies you as his mother through his nose. The secretion from your nipple has the same smell as the amniotic fluid in which your baby bathed for nine months.
Building An Emotional Bond
Breastfeeding contributes to the development of the relationship between you and your baby. Over time, with frequent nursing, your relationship is enriched with glances, affection given, and smiles shared.
In these exchanges, your baby sees and feels a seamless bond of love, admiration and affection, all of which give him confidence and a sense of security necessary to assist in his discovery of the world.
Prolactin, The "Mothering Hormone"
Prolactin is a hormone produced by the pituitary gland that stimulates the mammary glands. Production accelerates immediately after childbirth. It was this hormone that triggered the production of your milk at the right time when your baby was born.
Prolactin continues to be produced in large quantities as you are breastfeeding, in response to the suckling baby. If you are not breastfeeding, the rate goes down in the weeks following childbirth.