Benefits of Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is one of those things when it comes to parenting that from the beginning we are told “Breast is best”. Have you heard that phrase? I feel like there are tshirts, billboards, mugs and stickers with that saying, but what does that even mean. I think we all know that breastfeeding is beneficial and there is no doubt about it, but the reasons that it is beneficial are not well known or even well discussed. This episode is in no way meant to bring about shame for anyones decision on how to feed their baby, but like anything with Perfectly Unprepared its goal is to empower and educate.
I remember when our son was only a month or so old Jake (my husband) said something about breastfeeding and I can’t even remember what was, but essentially he really didn’t have any deeper understanding about the unique properties of breast milk. This made me realize that if he, someone working in healthcare and married to a pediatric provider didn’t know, then there is likely a good chunk of other parents who aren’t well informed.
How can we truly make a well informed decision about something if we don’t know how it really is effecting our child and our family. Breastfeeding is not some walk in the park journey as it is made out to be. Unfortunately, breastfeeding can be portrayed as this innate motherly act that us and our babies just know how to do from the moment they enter this world, which isn’t always the case. Breastfeeding can be exhausting, overwhelming and is a HUGE commitment. So to me, if I am going to spend so much time doing something that is so challenging at times, I better know the why! This why is also so helpful for our support systems so that they can be our cheerleaders in this journey. Even if you aren’t at a point where you are ever going to breastfeed again, I guarantee you know someone who is or will likely have someone in your life who will, so this episode is still one that you are going to want to continue listening to.
Let’s start out by talking about some of the greatest health benefits of breast milk for babies.
Breastfeeding results in a decreased incidence of:
Otitis media or ear infections— Any breastfeeding has been associated with a 23% lower risk of otitis media. babies breastfed exclusively for greater than 6 months had a 77% lower risk.
Respiratory disease and infection— this includes Upper & lower respiratory tract infections, asthma and RSV. Babies breastfed greater than 4 months had a 74% decreased risk for RSV. Similarly, Upper and lower respiratory tract infections were decreased by greater than 60% by exclusively breastfeeding.
Eczema or atopic dermatitis- Babies breastfed for 3 months or longer had a 27% decreased risk if they had a negative family history for eczema and a 42% decreased risk if they had a positive family history.
Inflammatory bowel disease and obesity— Any breastfeeding results in a >20% decreased risk of these conditions in childhood.
Celiac disease— babies who were breastfed greater than 2 months (when mom was consuming gluten) have a 52% decreased risk of celiac disease
Type 1 & Type 2 Diabetes— greater than 3 months of breastfeeding correlates with a 30% lower risk of type 1 diabetes and any breastfeeding correlated with a 40% lower risk of type 2 diabetes.
Leukemia— greater than 6 months of breastfeeding correlates to a 20% lower risk of ALL and 15% lower risk of AML
SIDS— Any breastfeeding greater than 1 month is associated with a 36% lower risk of SIDS
Now lets switch gears and talk about the health benefits of breastfeeding for mommas.
There are a multitude of both short and long term maternal health benefits that have been research as well:
Decreased risk of Type 2 Diabetes for moms who did not have a history of gestational diabetes— for each year of breastfeeding the risk was lowered
Decreased risk of Rheumatoid Arthritis
Decreased incidence of breast and ovarian cancer— breastfeeding for longer than 12 months or longer cumulatively has been associated with a 28% decreased risk of both of these cancers. Additionally, each year of breastfeeding results in a 4.3% reduction in breast cancer
Improved heart health— significant reduction in hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and cardiovascular disease for women with a curative lactation history of 12 to 23 months
How amazing are all of these statistics? Breastfeeding really is miraculous and it is so cool to see all of these benefits laid out. I think it really puts the benefits into perspective versus just being told “breast is best”. I hope you learned something today that you can take forward with you. Like I said, even if you aren’t in a position where you will breastfeed yourself, this is maybe the evidence you needed to be a really good support system and cheerleader for someone around you! If you think this episode might interest someone, share it with them or direct them to our show notes where they can read all about it.
Eidelmen et al. (2012). Breastfeeding and the use of human milk. Pediatrics. 129(3), e827-e841. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.2011-3552
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