What are the benefits of choosing to breastfeed?
I feel so blessed to have had the privilege of breastfeeding all three of my children for a combined total of five years. My mom breastfed me and all six of my younger siblings and so did every other mom in my close knit church and community, so I knew I would breastfeed my babies no matter what it cost me.
I always tell new moms that the first couple of weeks and months are the hardest. If you can get through that time, it gets amazingly easy thereafter. Once a breastfeeding relationship is established, you no longer have to worry so much about proper latch or having a good supply because those things happen with little to no effort and breastfeeding becomes a very quick and convenient way to feed your baby at a moments notice.
There are countless benefits to breastfeeding your baby. I’m not going to go into all the studies done about brain development or lower instances of asthma and obesity—which there are—but I am going to tell you about all the benefits I have personally discovered in my breastfeeding journey.
Amazing bonding experience
The first thing I noticed as I learned to breastfeed my oldest, was the distance between her eyes and mine. It was the perfect distance for her to look at me and make eye contact, even back when she couldn’t see very far. As we gazed into each others eyes over the half moon of my breast, we bonded in a special and very real way. If that alone were the only benefit to breastfeeding, I think I would still fight to give my babies my milk over the bottle.
Puts the baby to sleep
They always say you shouldn’t let the baby use you as a pacifier and you should put babies to sleep awake, but I don’t really follow that rule. I love how nursing at night and before nap time relaxes a baby and puts them to sleep. As my nurslings get older, this bedtime method is less effective and we have to begin exploring other methods of getting the baby to go to sleep.
Calms the baby down
Fussy babies love the breast. At least mine do. My babies are always fussy. I never did discover if it’s what I eat or if it’s just because I hold them so much that they can’t stand to be put down. Whenever my infants are fussy, I nurse them and it calms them right down. It’s become so instinctual that I have to remind myself not to do it when I’m holding someone else’s fussy baby! This also makes it hard to tell my pediatricians how many feedings my babies get every day. They are fed on demand so they nurse pretty darn often, even after they pass the one year mark.
Fixes every boo boo
When your babies get older and become mobile, they get lots of bumps, bruises, and scrapes. The boob fixes almost all of these. If she just started sitting up and fell backwards on that big head of hers, I nurse her and she forgets all about it. If he’s just fallen flat on his face while walking down the hallway for the first time, I nurse him and he calms right down. If she got her fingers pinched in her brothers toys, I nurse the pain away. Unless it’s a really big bump, my kids almost always stop crying and relax their breathing as soon as they start to suck at my breast. It’s magical.
Wonderful for teething
Teething babies love to nurse! My daughter is cutting four molars at a time right now. It’s the first time that amber necklaces haven’t completely erased our teething woes, it’s that bad, so she wants to nurse a lot—especially at night. On those nights or days where your baby’s teething is just too tough to handle, let them nurse as often and as long as they want. It will help them get through the worst of it.
Great for when they’re sick
I’ve never had to worry about dehydration when my infants/toddlers are sick because they’re breastfed, so they go to the breast for comfort when they aren’t feeling well. This means that even if their tummies hurt and they don’t think they want to drink, they’re getting plenty of fluids anyway as they comfort themselves with my nearness, my scent, and the warmth of my breast.
Boost for the immune system
Okay, so I am adding one scientific tidbit here: nursing is awesome for boosting the immune system! In the first couple of days your colostrum gives babies a nice, concentrated dose of immunity, and then in the weeks, months, and years that follow your body continues to custom make your milk to help your baby fight off any illnesses that they or you come in contact with.
After the first couple of weeks where you have to establish latch and supply, breastfeeding is easy. It’s always warm, always ready, and there is always enough of it. You can breastfeed your baby anywhere and you don’t have to carry along any supplies to do it, except your own snacks and water.
Nursing is free. I don’t know the cost of formula but I do know it’s expensive. Breastmilk costs nothing (although a breastfeeding mommy will eat more so there is the cost of those groceries).
Not everyone loses weight, so I’m sorry if you’re one of those people who doesn’t lose anything or who gains, but most people I’ve talked with lose weight when they nurse. It’s one of those awesome ways nature works with us to get our bodies back to their pre-baby condition. Okay, not “back” persay, but closer to their pre-baby condition. From the first couple of days where the sucking helps the uterus to contract back to normal, to the calories that slowly slough off over the next couple months or years, breastfeeding is not only good for baby, it’s good for mommy too.
It does come with an entirely new set of cravings. When I’m breastfeeding, I feel like a Hobbit. There’s breakfast, second breakfast, elevenses, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper, and a midnight snack. These cravings may be why some of us don’t lose weight. Breastfeeding helped me to lose weight differently for each of my children. It took nine months to a year to lose most of it with my first child, and the last couple of pounds didn’t slough off until after she had weaned. My second child melted it off me in mere months and then I kept losing until I was lower than my pre-pregnancy weight. I didn’t actually gain much weight with my third, so there wasn’t much to lose when she was born. It’s different for every child and with weight being such a sensitive topic in our society, it’s best to just embrace your body as beautiful no matter it’s shape and size. I have been curvy, and I have been bony and I’m learning to embrace the beauty in both body types. The changes our body undergoes are evidence of the amazing, new life you get to raise and care for.
Lower chance of SIDS
Another scientific fact: breastfed babies have lower instances of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome). SIDS is one of the great parenting fears that comes with having a newborn. I always felt a bit more at ease knowing that my babies were less likely to suffer from it due to my being able to breastfeed them. However, if you are unable to breastfeed, check out baby monitoring systems like Angel Care or Snuza baby monitors that monitor your baby’s breathing and send off a very annoying alarm if they stop breathing (or if they roll of the mat) Check out this website for more info on why SIDS is reduced by breastfeeding.
I know breastfeeding isn’t for everyone. You may have tried it and it just didn’t work, it may have been physically impossible for you can you simply couldn’t, you may have hated it, or you may love it and continue to nurse for years and years. I have nursed all my babies, and I am currently unable to continue nursing my third past a year for medical reasons so we are learning to bottle feed. I always felt like I was giving my kids the best when I gave them the boob. It’s hard for me, but I’m discovering that I can be a good parent even when I have to deny my thirteen month old the breast and feed her a bottle instead. She fights it at first but she is learning to adapt. Most importantly, she still looks up at me with those sweet, trusting eyes while sucking a synthetic nipple.
If you can breastfeed, the things I’ve listed above are just a handful of the amazing benefits you will experience. If you can’t, your child will still be smart, will still eventually develop a good immune system, and will still get along in life just fine. Embrace the breast if you can, and if you have to or want to, it’s okay to embrace the bottle too.