Breastfeeding Benefits For Mother And Baby
She picked up my child from out of the crib, slid him into a handmade sling, and gave him the nipple. At first, she had such a hard time learning how to guide him in the right direction, and teach him exactly how to latch on. By now, just a brush of that sweet-smelling breast across his cheek would activate his rooting reflex, and he would immediately begin feeding.
At times, I remember, in full gaga mode as a new father, feeling a fullness at the sight. My wife and child would often lock eyes, and I could see that at that moment, nothing else existed except the two of them. The way my wife would softly sing to him, make soothing noises, and talk to him about how much she was in love sparked some long-buried wish for that kind of deep connection. Every so often, my son, in the middle of his attachment bliss, would just breathe out deeply. I could almost smell the contentment.
The benefits of breastfeeding your baby are so numerous, I feel compelled to discuss them on this site as one of the best things you can do when you start out on the journey of parenting.
In an article in the highly-regarded journal Pediatrics, the authors say that “Human milk is species-specific, and all substitute feeding preparations differ markedly from it, making human milk uniquely superior for infant feeding.” Breastmilk contains antibacterial properties that are powerful precisely because of the symbiotic relationship your baby and you have had for the past 9 or so months. No other method of feeding your baby contains such an exact mix of exactly what your baby needs to be healthy than the special product your body is constantly making just for him! It’s a custom meal plan better than any other.
In a recent brochure, created by James Allen and Debra Hector, for Public Health Policy in Australia, the benefits of breastfeeding your baby include lower rates of infectious disease, upper and lower respiratory tract infections, gastrointestinal illnesses – and all of these outcomes occur “during the infant period and beyond!”
In addition, the benefits of breastfeeding your baby include probably protection against asthma, allergies, some childhood leukemias, UTI, inflammatory bowel disease, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS), obesity and higher levels of cognitive ability.
These outcomes are just for the baby. Another set of amazing benefits of breastfeeding your baby are just for you, the mother. Women who breastfeed have lower levels of postpartum bleeding, a decreased risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and an earlier return to pre-pregnancy weight.
The story at the beginning of this article points to one last reason to breastfeed your baby. An article entitled, Breastfeeding, Bonding, and the Mother-Infant Relationship, discusses the bond between mothers and infants that is created as a result of breastfeeding. Dr. Elizabeth Miller, on her blog Richmondmom, says that, when asked, mothers often say that breastfeeding is “an enjoyable and emotionally beneficial experience.”
As a psychologist, I can imagine that the set-aside of time and the pure focus of attention that can take place during breastfeeding sessions would improve and build upon the bond that is so important for a child’s self-regard and powerful sense of agency as she matures.
One special note: Some women find breastfeeding extremely painful in the early days, and this experience, devoid of the guidance of a trained nursing specialist or health care worker, can lead to them giving up. Also, a few women will give a formula bottle as a top-feed to breastmilk, unaware that this can cause their milk supply to reduce, which then becomes a reason for them to quit. If you are in a situation where you cannot breastfeed, don’t lose hope. You can still mimic the interpersonal benefits that mothers and babies receive during breastfeeding. While your baby is taking her bottle, hold her, make eye contact, sing, speak to her in a loving voice, set aside everything else and just focus on the act of being close to her while she feeds. In doing so, the bonding experience can still be a special one for both of you.
One mother (the author of Easymommylife) describes the bonding that takes place during breastfeeding like this:
“All my life I have been at the center of my own world. Breastfeeding was my first introduction to motherhood. The moment my son latched on, my life changed. Suddenly I moved from being the center of my world to becoming the background in someone else’s. This completely helpless tiny being, now relied on me for survival. Maternal feelings took over; I felt protective and selfless love. I felt like a mom.
Everyone calls this the “bond” you develop through breastfeeding. As he grows in front of my eyes I cannot believe it has been through my milk.
This bond cannot be explained in words, it feels like a calm and safe place between the two of us. Breastfeeding is our private time, we look into each other’s eyes, and I sing sometimes, he giggles and smiles. It’s our special place of love.”
Hope this article helps new moms understand the many benefits of breastfeeding. I would love to hear from breastfeeding mothers about the bonding experience that breastfeeding created for them. Enjoy Parenting, it won’t last forever!
Dr. John D. Rich Jr.
is an educational psychologist, associate professor of Psychology at Delaware State University, a full-time husband and father of two sons. You can hear Dr. John every other Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. on the Matt Connarton Unleashed radio show on WMNH 95.3 FM. Also, check out drjohnrich.com for more info. Got questions? Dr. John will help you navigate. Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org