As a new mom, navigating the ins and outs of mommy-hood can be a bit daunting at times, so we’re here to help. Whether you decide to breastfeed or not (only you know what’s best for you and your family), we wanted to share a couple benefits of breastfeeding that are often overlooked. From oxytocin boosts to fighting obesity, here are 6 added bonuses of breastfeeding your baby.
1. Higher levels of oxytocin lead to healthy social skills
Oxytocin often gets a bad rap, (some women blame this hormone for making them feel ‘clingy’ in new, romantic relationships), but it actually provides so many benefits to nursing moms. Nicknamed the ‘cuddle chemical’ or the ‘hug hormone,’ when oxytocin is produced, it increases feelings of trust, empathy and overall connection to others. That might not be ideal during a breakup, but for mother and baby, it’s a major plus.
Your body produces oxytocin during pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding. Every time you breastfeed, the stimulation triggers a release of oxytocin that tells your body to “let down” milk so your baby can drink. Oxytocin is also a wonderful promoter of overall mother-child bonding, which in turn fosters love, nurturing and a deep emotional bond between you and your little one. It’s also been shown to help babies foster healthy social skills that continue to develop as they grow.
2. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of Necrotizing enterocolitis (NEC)
It’s a mouthful, but definitely worth mentioning. Necrotizing enterocolitis is a disease that affects the gastrointestinal tract in premature babies in which a portion of the bowel dies. This usually happens to newborns that are either premature or unwell in other ways. Symptoms range from poor feeding and bloating to blood in the stool, vomiting of bile and decreased activity.
Breast milk is said to help a healthy microbiome develop, and it’s especially important for premature babies who don’t have their gastrointestinal fully developed. According to Diane Spatz, human milk promotes the growth of healthy bacteria in the infant gut, gastric motility and maturity of the digestive tract. It also minimizes intestinal membrane permeability and has an anti-inflammatory effect on the digestive tract.
An exclusively human milk diet can reduce the incidence of NEC by 50 percent in premature infants. Spatz further notes that human milk has an essential role in reducing the incidence and severity of NEC.
3. Breastfeeding can lessen the chance of developing asthma
Thanks to the many proteins, nutrients and minerals produced in breastmilk, your baby’s immune system is growing stronger and more sophisticated with every feeding. In this way, breastfeeding is helpful in reducing the risk of infection that can trigger asthmatic symptoms. Many studies show that breastfeeding for up to 6 months after birth can reduce the risk of your child developing asthma-related symptoms in early childhood.
Of course, like all the breastfeeding benefits outlined in this post, every case is different and it’s good to remember that personal family history as well as the medical decisions made during pregnancy also play a role. Still, research suggests that for moms who are predisposed to developing asthma (and food allergies) themselves, breastfeeding can lessen the chance that their own babies develop the same vulnerabilities.
4. Breastfeeding keeps infant and child obesity at bay
Even if obesity doesn’t run in your family, it’s a huge problem in the United States and something that can lead to many other health problems. Breastfeeding reduces child obesity by up to 25%, meaning that by breastfeeding, you are directly reducing the chances of your baby becoming obese in the future. Talk about a super power!
In many ways, breastfeeding is like a protective shield; feeding your baby with everything it needs to survive and thrive. One major component here is insulin, and the ability to keep those levels stable. Higher insulin levels in the blood can stimulate fat deposition.
5. Immune-boosting properties of breastmilk combat eczema
Eczema, or atopic dermatitis, isn’t necessarily a rare skin condition—roughly 31.6% of people in the United States have varying degrees and types—but it can cause a lot of discomfort (physically, mentally and emotionally) for those affected. Eczema shows itself through inflamed, red, cracked, rough and itchy patches of skin.
The Journal of Allergy and Clinical Immunology released a report that had some pretty encouraging findings, namely, that exclusively breastfeeding decreased the odds that a child had eczema by the age of 6 years old. This was compared to children who were not breastfed or were breastfed for a duration of less than three months.
6. It lessens your chances of later developing type 2 diabetes
This one is all about YOU. About 5-9% of pregnant women across the United States develop high blood sugar levels, even if they didn’t have diabetes before pregnancy. It’s a condition called gestational diabetes and, unfortunately, once diagnosed with this, your risk of developing type 2 diabetes later in life spikes significantly. This can cause a host of other health problems, from heart and kidney disease to strokes.
On the bright side, we know that breastfeeding increases insulin sensitivity and improves glucose metabolism. Furthermore, breastfeeding can lower the rate of type 2 diabetes for up to two years after giving birth, possibly even longer. Results vary, as always, but this is really encouraging news.