While the important presence of disease-fighting antibodies in breast milk is most commonly mooted by experts as the biggest benefit of breastfeeding, Dr Leneque X. Lindeque says that while this is certainly true, there are many additional advantages to breastfeeding that are often overlooked.
“It is important to emphasise that breastfeeding holds significant value for both mother and baby. That is why on-going education is important as many women are still unaware of its multiple benefits,” says Lindeque, an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising at Netcare Alberlito Hospital.
1. A healthier baby overall
Lindeque highlights the following benefits of breastfeeding:
- Incidences of pneumonia, colds and viruses as well as gastrointestinal infections such as diarrhoea are greatly reduced.
- Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers are also less likely to occur in breastfed infants.
- Research indicates that the IQ and development of your baby is significantly improved.
“Breast milk assists with the transfer of the mother’s immune system and fills an ‘immunological gap’ while the infant’s immune system is still immature. Breastfed babies are also less likely to develop allergies, with research further indicating a better antibody response to vaccines. Your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is also reduced by about half,” she explains.
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2. A health boost for mother
According to Lindeque:
- Breastfeeding not only provides protection against the development of pre-menopausal breast cancer, but also reduces the risk of ovarian and uterine cancers.
- Because lactating women absorb calcium more efficiently, they run less of a risk of developing post-menopausal osteoporosis.
- Breastfeeding women experience better healing post-delivery. Not only does the uterus return to its original size sooner if breastfeeding is initiated soon after birth, but it also reduces the chances of harmful bleeding. It has also been documented that women who have had caesarean sections heal faster.
- Regular breastfeeding around the clock during the first few months after birth can delay menstruation and therefore serves as a form of birth control. “However, this is not one hundred percent reliable and women should not see this as a fool-proof alternative to birth control,” she advises.
- Considering that the production of breastmilk can burn up to 400 calories in a day, breastfeeding is a completely natural way of promoting weight loss.
- It significantly enhances a mother’s bonding with baby.
- Reduces the likelihood of the mother suffering from post-partum anxiety and depression.
- Last, but not least, breastfeeding is convenient and economical. Breast milk is always readily available at the right temperature and without the hassle of having to sterilise bottles. And, of course, it is significantly cheaper than formula milk.
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“Ultimately, it is important to emphasise that although breastfeeding is natural, it is not always easy to initiate. In instances where the mother is struggling, I would encourage them to contact their healthcare provider or a registered lactation consultant for help and support rather than choosing to stop breastfeeding,” she concludes.
Source: Martina Nicholson Associates (MNA) on behalf of Netcare Alberlito Hospital. Image: Pixabay