There are a few brand new babies in our friend-circle, and looking at them, I cannot believe how far my little boy and I have come on our breastfeeding journey in just 5months! I have already forgotten the difficulties of those first few days, and he is now breastfeeding like a pro!
“If we wear our nursing covers backwards like capes, then everyone can see we’re breastfeeding superheroes.” Cassi Clark, Breastfeeding Is a Bitch: But We Lovingly Do it Anyway
Let us be honest with each other, breastfeeding is the most “natural” choice, but it is definitely not the easiest initially and it does not always come naturally to a brand new mom. As you might know, breastfeeding is ruled by two hormones: Oxytocin and Prolactin, both secreted by the pituitary gland in the brain.1 The regulation of both these hormones are very sensitive to pain, fear, stress, love, happiness and bonding with your baby. So basically, breastfeeding is “all in the mind”…
If you choose to breastfeed, make up your mind that you WILL BE ABLE TO! Your body was made wonderfully, so do not let anybody stir doubt in your mind. Surround yourself with people who will be supportive, and people who can help you when you are struggling and then give it your all. It truly is one of the best gifts you can give your baby and yourself.
“Yet You are He who pulled me out of the womb;
You made me trust when on my mother’s breasts.” Ps 22:9
I really want to encourage you to breastfeed! There are so many benefits for mom and baby. To help you stick it out over the long haul, I want to look at a few of the benefits of breastfeeding with you. Today I want to only look at the benefits for mom (after all, you will be doing all the hard work), next week we will look at the benefits for baby in both the short and long term, and then I will share a little bit about my own journey.
Immediate and Early Benefits for Mom:
- Bonding. This has a lot to do with the hormone Oxytocin (so called “love-hormone”) that is released both in you and your baby while breastfeeding (the suckling, the close skin-to-skin contact and the eye contact releases oxytocin, but there is also some of the hormone in your breast milk).2 Oxytocin is also released when you hug someone for longer than 6 seconds and after sex… so it is safe to say that a trusting, positive bond should develop between you and your baby.
- Reduce bleeding after delivery.3 Once again… that wonderful hormone Oxytocin! It helps the uterus to contract (just like in labour) which in turn limits the bleeding.
- Reduce stress and improve sleep. You probably know the answer by now… Oxytocin! 🙂 It makes you feel calm and produces feelings of trust, thus lowering your stress levels. It reduces cortisol, lowers blood pressure and improves digestion. This in turn is the perfect recipe for sleep, giving you a little more of a very valuable and scarce commodity in those first few days.
- Prolong amenorrhoea and an-ovulation.3 Breastfeeding exclusively has the natural effect of suppressing ovulation, thereby acting as a natural birth control for up to 6 months (or as long as the woman is exclusively breastfeeding and her menses have not returned). This is not 100% fool proof and your gyne will usually discuss other methods of contraception with you at your 6 week follow-up, but it helps. And who will not take the chance to be free of “Aunt Flo” for as long as possible!
- Postpartum weight loss. Yes ladies, you heard right… finally something that burns fat!! Pregnancy tends to add on the kilos, but luckily we have a built-in solution. In a large prospective cohort study, Baker et al.4 showed that greater exclusivity and duration of breastfeeding was associated with greater weight loss at 6 and 18 months postpartum in women of all BMI categories. Another great reason to stick it out!
- Reduce Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus, Metabolic disease and Cardiovascular risk. During pregnancy your body adapts in order to sustain your growing baby. Some of these changes include a mild degree of insulin resistance and changes in your lipid profile. There is some evidence for a “Reset Hypothesis”5 that happens when you breastfeed so that your cells are once again more sensitive to insulin, and that changes your lipid profile back to a healthier combination, thus decreasing the risk for chronic metabolic diseases.
- Reduce risk for breast and ovarian cancer. According to a 2002 meta-analysis6 (a very trustworthy type of study), your risk for developing breast cancer is reduced by 4.3% per year of breastfeeding. There is also a decreased risk for ovarian cancer. It is thought that this is due to a decrease in the time that your body is exposed to estrogen (during breastfeeding this hormone is suppressed).
Benefits that spill over to the whole family…
(These have nothing to do with your biology or health, but believe me they play a big role in your overall well-being!)
- It is FREE! Babies cost a lot of money, but this is one area that does not have to cost you a cent for at least 4 months. No need for bottles, formula or sterilizing equipment.
- It is always the right temperature (no more stumbling to the kitchen to try and heat the bottle in the middle of the night)
- It is naturally sterile! This saves a lot of time, as you do not have to wash and boil water or microwave or steam bottles and teats. In fact, the microbes that baby get into contact with during breastfeeding are GOOD for him! (More on that in the next post).
- It is always available! If you stay out for longer than planned and baby wants to eat NOW, it is very easy to just find a quiet corner and let baby eat.
After saying all of that, I am sure you can start to understand why I am very passionate about breastfeeding. In the end however I agree that “fed is best”. I do understand that there are some circumstances where the ideal is not achievable, and I know your mommy-heart only wants what is best for your baby. The goal is to have a baby that is healthy, growing well and loved.
“Successful breastfeeding take courage, resilience, patience, and support and it always has. If your partner or support group hasn’t piled on the accolades for your heroism, then let them know you will expect oohs and has when you make it through the first two to three months (no matter how you got there) and your baby is happy and healthy — because you are awesome!”
Cassi Clark, Breastfeeding Is a Bitch: But We Lovingly Do it Anyway
**** Photo’s taken by myself in multiple museums in Italy and Slovenia in 2015.
- SESSION 2, The physiological basis of breastfeeding; Infant and Young Child Feeding: Model Chapter for Textbooks for Medical Students and Allied Health Professionals
- Takeda S, Kuwabara Y, Mizuno M; Concentrations and origin of oxytocin in breast milk; Endocrinol Jpn. 1986 Dec;33(6):821-6.
- Dieterich CM, Felice JP, O’Sullivan E, Rasmussen KM; Breastfeeding and Health Outcomes for the Mother-Infant Dyad; Pediatr Clin North Am. 2013 Feb; 60(1): 31–48.
- Baker JL, Gamborg M, Heitmann BL, Lissner L, Sørensen TI, Rasmussen KM; Breastfeeding reduces postpartum weight retention; Am J Clin Nutr. 2008 Dec; 88(6):1543-51.
- Stuebe AM, Rich-Edwards JW; The reset hypothesis: lactation and maternal metabolism; Am J Perinatol. 2009 Jan; 26(1):81-8.
- Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer; Breast cancer and breastfeeding: collaborative reanalysis of individual data from 47 epidemiological studies in 30 countries, including 50302 women with breast cancer and 96973 women without the disease; 2002 Jul 20; 360(9328):187-95.