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    The Benefits of Breastfeeding: A Comprehensive Overview

    Updated 24 April 2020 |
    Published 12 February 2019
    Fact Checked
    Anna Klepchukova
    Reviewed by Anna Klepchukova, Flo chief medical officer, UK
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    For mothers, the time immediately after childbirth is often a blur of relief, joy and many new decisions. An important choice at this point is whether or not to breastfeed your newborn. Read on to find out about the benefits of breastfeeding.

    Advantages of breastfeeding for moms

    From speeding up postpartum recovery to easing anxiety and more, breastfeeding can be helpful to new mothers in a number of ways. Let’s take a closer look at each of these advantages of breastfeeding:

    Helps maintain your health

    Feeding infants with breast milk has proven health benefits for the mother, both short-term and long-term. Studies have shown that nursing lowers the chance for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, and some reproductive cancers. Under certain conditions, breastfeeding can also be used as a contraceptive method. 

    Improves your mood

    Studies on nursing mothers versus formula feeding mothers have linked breastfeeding with fewer signs of stress, anxiety, and negative moods. This is because the process of breastfeeding releases hormones called oxytocin and prolactin, which have a calming, soothing effect.

    Gets you back into shape

    According to recent studies, breastfeeding helps your body return to its pre-pregnancy shape much faster. Oxytocin, the breastfeeding hormone, speeds up the shrinkage of your uterus back to its previous size and also makes it easier to shed pregnancy weight.

    Saves time and money

    Another major advantage of breastfeeding is the amount of time and money it saves in the long run. We’re not just talking about avoiding high formula prices and trips to the store. By strengthening your health and your baby’s health, breastfeeding means fewer doctor and hospital visits or other healthcare-related expenses.

    Breastfeeding benefits for babies

    Numerous studies have noted the direct benefits of breastfeeding for infants. By supplying critical nutrients, boosting their immune systems, and much more, it can lead to happier, healthier babies. Here’s another detailed list of breastfeeding advantages:

    Offers balanced nutrition to your baby

    Mother’s milk is proven to have almost all the necessary nutrients (except for vitamin D) in proper proportions. However, exclusively breastfed infants will require vitamin D supplements. During the first few days after birth, the mother’s breasts produce a thick, yellowish liquid called colostrum. This high-protein, low-sugar fluid contains IgA, and compounds which develop the baby’s digestive system.

    healthy baby after breastfeeding

    Makes babies healthier and smarter

    Breastfed babies show better health and brain development in infancy, as well as later in life. In a 2013 study by Brown University, MRI scans of breastfed infants indicated better brain development versus formula or combination-fed infants. Breastfeeding supplies antibodies that boost immunity and lower their chances for respiratory infections and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS). Breast milk also makes children less likely to develop asthma, allergies, diabetes mellitus, and obesity.

    Leads to healthy weight gain 

    Studies have linked nursing with a lower occurrence of obesity in children and adults. Infants fed on breast milk have higher levels of leptin (a hormone that lets you know when you’re full) and beneficial gut bacteria, which regulate fat storage and appetite. 

    Breastfeeding vs. formula: pros and cons

    Now that we know the various benefits of breastfeeding, how does it compare to using formula? Next, let’s weigh the advantages and disadvantages of breastfeeding and formula feeding:

    Advantages of breastfeeding:

    • Supplies critical nutrients to infants in proper proportions
    • Boosts short and long-term immunity and health for both mother and child
    • Speeds up postpartum recovery and weight loss for mother
    • Stimulates brain development and lowers child’s chances for chronic diseases
    • Provides skin-to-skin contact that encourages mother-child bonding and builds emotional security in the child
    • No preparation time
    • Breast milk is easy for the baby to digest 

    Disadvantages of breastfeeding:

    • Early breastfeeding may be uncomfortable for mother
    • Exclusively breastfed infants require vitamin D supplements
    • Mother must be available for feeding when needed, or pump if not present
    • Certain medications may not be allowed 
    • Only the mother can feed the baby

    Advantages of formula feeding:

    • Anyone can feed the baby, even if mother is absent
    • In case breastfeeding is initially difficult for mother, formula can be used in the meantime

    Disadvantages of formula feeding:

    • Formula can be difficult for the baby to digest and absorb
    • Nutritional content and proportions are not predetermined (depends on preparation)
    • Does not supply crucial antibodies to boost child’s immunity
    • Does not lower their chances of developing certain diseases or SIDS
    • Does not stimulate brain development
    • May increase chances of childhood and adult obesity, as well as infections
    • Can cost $50 to $200 per month depending upon quality and brand