As you approach the end of your pregnancy, your body is preparing to breastfeed. Breast milk is the perfect food for your baby, as it contains the best combination of ingredients for a strong immune system and overall growth and development. There are numerous benefits of breastfeeding not only for your baby, but also for you.
Breast milk provides all the nutrition your baby needs for the first six months of life. No additional food or water is recommended, so it makes feeding your baby easy. Your breast milk contains the perfect blend of nutrients, fat, and protein for your baby to grow at just the right rate.
As time passes and your baby grows, your milk changes to meet the new nutritional requirements. For example, your first milk is high in fat with less water but at three months of age, your milk has less fat and more water.
Breastfed babies also have fewer illnesses. The rates of ear infections, respiratory problems, asthma, and allergies are lower in breastfed babies. There is a strong connection between breastfeeding and a healthy immune system. You will pass your antibodies to your baby through your breast milk, giving your baby a head start in fighting off infections. Breast milk also makes a protective coating inside your baby’s stomach to keep germs from taking hold. Breastfeeding is also associated with a reduction in acute infections as well as chronic adult conditions like obesity, cancer and heart disease.
How Breastfeeding Protects Your Newborn
Human breast milk contains immune molecules called antibodies that are made by your body’s immune system. These are very specific molecules that help you fight each illness. When babies are born, their immune systems are very immature and they have less ability to fight illness-causing germs. Through your breast milk, you give your baby immunities to illnesses to which you are immune and also those to which you have been exposed.
Nursing also allows your baby to give germs to you so that your immune system can respond and can synthesize antibodies to help them. This means that if your baby comes into contact with something which you have not, he will pass these germs to you at the next nursing. During that feeding, your body will start to manufacture antibodies for that particular germ. By the time the next feeding arrives, your entire immune system will be working to provide immunities for you and your baby. If you are exposed to any bacteria or viruses, your body will be making antibodies against them and these will be in your milk. Human milk also contains a host of other immune molecules that also help protect your baby from germs. It’s an awesome system!
Research shows your child’s immune system will not be fully mature for many years. While it is developing, she will be protected by being breastfed. Her own immune system also develops more rapidly than does baby who is fed formula.
Does this mean breastfed babies never get sick? No, they can and do. However, the illness is generally less severe and less lengthy than if the baby were not receiving his mother’s milk.
Breastfeeding Benefits for Mom
Beyond providing nourishment and helping to protect your baby from getting sick, breastfeeding can also help you lose weight gained during pregnancy. When you nurse, you use fat cells stored in your body during pregnancy along with calories from your diet to fuel your milk production and feed your baby. You can lose weight during breastfeeding even when you follow the recommendations to eat an additional 300 to 500 calories a day to keep up your energy and milk production.
Mothers who breastfeed can have lower rates of breast, cervical, ovarian and uterine cancer. Breastfeeding helps your uterus return to normal and decreases blood loss after your baby is born. You may also experience a break from your period for as long as 12 months.
Many medical organizations strongly recommend breastfeeding, including The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Compiled using information from the following sources:
1. American Academy of Pediatrics. Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk.
2. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Breastfeeding.
3. Agarwal S., Karmaus W., Davis S., Venu G. (2011). Journal of Human Lactation (Vol 27, no.2). Review: Immune Markers in Breast Milk and Fetal and Maternal Body Fluids: A Systematic Review of Perinatal Concentrations.
4. La Leche League International: llli.org/breastfeeding
5. Mayo Clinic