Breastfeeding has many health benefits for the mother as well as for the child. In the beginning, I sought out information about the health benefits to my child. I was surprised to learn that the decision to breastfeed also impacts my health for years to come.
Mothers who breastfeed actively engage their endocrine system to help recover from childbirth. The mother releases oxytocin during breastfeeding, which reduces postpartum bleeding and stimulates contractions to help the uterus return to its normal size. I remember feeling the contractions and discussing the process with the nurses in the hospital during those first days following birth.
Oxytocin released during breastfeeding also may offer the mother another benefit. Oxytocin promotes relaxation, reduces responses to stress and anxiety and promotes psychological stability. Thus, this hormone may help protect some mothers against postpartum depression. Healthline cites studies that may indicate a lower incidence of postpartum depression among mothers who breastfeed compared to mothers who wean early or do not breastfeed at all.
While I was pregnant, my husband and I watched When the Bough Breaks: A Documentary on Postpartum Depression. We watched it in the process of educating ourselves about postpartum depression and its signs and symptoms. It features stories about women who suffered from postpartum depression and postpartum psychosis. I highly recommend it to anyone who wants more information.
Another benefit of breastfeeding results from the extra calories burned in the process, which can assist some mothers in their efforts to lose the extra pounds gained during pregnancy. I certainly gained some extra weight during my pregnancy.
The La Leche League reports that breastfeeding burns somewhere between 500-700 calories per day. This extra energy use allowed me to lose weight rather efficiently. Most of my friends experienced the same, but a few reported that breastfeeding had little or no impact on their postpartum weight loss efforts.
Regardless of the postpartum weight loss achieved during breastfeeding, research shows long-term implications. A study about the effects of breastfeeding on body fat distribution supported evidence that mothers who do not breastfeed had 28% greater belly fat and a 2 1/2-inch greater waist circumference later in life than mothers who breastfed each of her children for at least three months. Research shows that extra belly fat increases a person’s risk of heart disease.
Interestingly, and seemingly related, a mother who breastfeeds for over a year reduces her risk of high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease later in life as compared to mothers who do not breastfeed according to a study cited by Health.com. It also reports that the longer the mother breastfeeds, the greater the benefit in this regard.
Breastfeeding not only reduces the baby’s future risk of developing type 2 diabetes but also the mother’s. Again, the length of time the mother breastfeeds influences the magnitude of the impact. A recent study by Kaiser Permanente shows that mothers who breastfeed for at least six months decrease their risk of developing the disease by nearly 50% as compared to mothers who do not breastfeed.
Multiple Studies show that mothers who breastfeed experience lower rates of breast, ovarian and endometrial cancer later in life. Healthline cites studies evidencing that mothers who breastfeed for over a year reduce their risk of both breast and ovarian cancer by 28%, and each year of breastfeeding reduces the mother’s risk of breast cancer by 4.3%. Breastfeeding also reduces the mother’s the risk of endometrial cancer by up to 11% when compared to mothers who do not breastfeed. One possible explanation may relate to the natural suppression of estrogen during breastfeeding.
As with my post on the the health benefits of breastfeeding for the child, this list of health benefits to the mother certainly is not all inclusive. I found the above points of particular interest to me based on my family history and experiences with friends. My child’s health was my primary motivation for deciding to breastfeed, but I am happy to know it may also do my body good too.