While many of the benefits your baby gets from breastfeeding come through breast milk, the benefits for the parent come through the milk production process and the physiological mechanics of breastfeeding.
Ready to get nerdy? Let’s do a deep dive into why breastfeeding is good for YOU.
Breastfeeding benefits after birth
Recovering from birth, whether you delivered vaginally or via C-section, takes some time. However, breastfeeding can help the healing process along.
To begin, breastfeeding hormones—specifically, oxytocin—promote uterine contractions. These contractions can be painful, especially during the first couple of weeks. (We’re sorry, we know you thought you’d be done with contractions!)
The contractions serve a purpose, though. During pregnancy, your uterus expands to the size of a watermelon. After giving birth, it will start shrinking right away, but it takes up to 6 weeks to turn to its original size. (A pear, for reference.) Breastfeeding helps the process by encouraging uterus-shrinking contractions, which reduces the risk of postpartum hemorrhage.
Breastfeeding can also help with pain management after delivery. This benefit is especially helpful for parents who deliver via C-section. A study from 2017 found that parents who breastfeed for 2 months or longer following a C-section were three times less likely to struggle with ongoing pain at their incision site.
As a parent, you want to stay healthy for your baby. Both now and well into the future. Thankfully, breastfeeding can help guard your health against some of the most significant health risks for you.
One of the most talked about benefits for breastfeeding parents is the decreased risk for cancers. Research has found a powerful connection between breastfeeding—especially breastfeeding longer than a year—and lower breast cancer and ovarian cancer rates.
This protection is a result of the hormonal changes that occur during breastfeeding. For breast cancer protection, lower estrogen levels are connected to lower growth of breast cancer cells. What’s more, during pregnancy and breastfeeding, you shed breast tissue, which can remove cells with DNA damage and reduce the likelihood of developing breast cancer.
And the lower rates of ovarian cancer? It’s connected to hormonal shifts as well. For example, when you breastfeed, many parents experience what’s known as lactation amenorrhea, meaning ovulation is prevented due to the breastfeeding-related disruption of your menstrual cycle. So while some parents enjoy the break in their monthly periods from a logistical standpoint, it also means you ovulate less. And less ovulation means less exposure to estrogen and abnormal cells that could become cancer.
Another significant benefit is for your heart health. Yes, breastfeeding doesn’t just make your heart feel good—it helps it work better. For example, a 2018 study conducted by US and Danish researchers observed that those who breastfed for at least 4 months had a 20-30% lower risk of hypertension and heart disease. What’s more, the benefits weren’t limited to the parent who exclusively breastfed.
Diabetes risks lowered
Rates of diabetes, particularly Type 2 diabetes, has been on the rise since 2002. Type 2 diabetes is a worrying condition associated with a whole range of adverse health outcomes, including vision impairment, stress on the kidneys, and nervous system damage.
However, breastfeeding can protect against Type 2 diabetes. In a 30-year study in JAMA International Medicine, parents who breastfeed for 6 months or more reduced their risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in half. This protection was even present for parents who were diagnosed with gestational diabetes.
Getting back in shape
Weight loss is also a much-touted benefit to breastfeeding. That’s because breastfeeding burns calories in a significant way. For most parents, the average number of extra calories burned each day is between 300-500. That’s just the average, though. Parents with oversupply can burn more than that.
A word of caution: If you’re excited to drop your baby weight, the calorie burn of breastfeeding can be a big selling point. However, breastfeeding makes a lot of breastfeeding parents hungry. Very hungry! And thirsty! Depending on your nutritional habits, results may vary.
What’s more, the parent is too often encouraged to “drop the baby weight.” But what’s the rush? Instead, take the time to ease into parenthood. Treat yourself with kindness and care. Your baby thinks you’re amazing just the way you are—show yourself the same kind of unconditional love!
Well-being and breastfeeding
Mental health benefits
The first weeks and months of parenthood are an adjustment period. There are lots of ups and downs as you get a handle on this whole “parenting” thing. Of course, it doesn’t help that you have many hormonal shifts going on during this transitional season.
But for some parents, the transition into parenthood can be particularly rough. Perinatal mood disorders are common and can be debilitating when undiagnosed and untreated. Thankfully, breastfeeding can reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression, anxiety, and other related conditions.
One study, published in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine, found that parents who breastfed for up to four months postpartum were less likely to be diagnosed with postpartum depression. Another study found similar results in a survey over almost 14,000 parents in England. The study observed a 50% reduction in postpartum depression when parents were breastfeeding.
Keep in mind, these studies aren’t conclusive that breastfeeding alone prevents depression or anxiety. What’s more, breastfeeding can be linked to increased stress, anxiety, and depression when parents struggle with it. Getting help and support early on can make a huge difference, though.
Breastfeeding and sleeping
Sleep. It’s one of the most precious resources for new parents. And if you’re breastfeeding, you might be getting just a little bit more of it.
Studies have found that breastfeeding parents–and their babies—get more sleep. Specifically, exclusively breastfeeding parents get the most, more than parents who practice mixed-feeding or formula feed. While many factors influence sleep, the potent hormones in breast milk aid in sleep patterns—specifically, oxytocin helps lull your baby back to bed.
Your journey, our support
The first days, weeks, and even months of parenthood can be overwhelming. While we can’t help with everything, we can help you get the most out of your breastfeeding journey. Book a convenient online video appointment with a Nest Collaborative IBCLC today.
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