Breastfeeding is the way nature intended us to feed our babies. However, for some women breastfeeding is not possible and for others, they simply choose not to do so. Certain research tells us that mothers often feel judged about the way they choose to feed their infant, regardless of whether their chosen method is via breast of formula milk. This ‘shaming’ is a societal problem and shows a real need to influence society’s opinion and understanding on infant feeding in the UK. On top of this, mothers need to be supported in their method of infant feeding by health care professionals and others around them.
However, there is no getting away from the fact that there are a number of benefits of breastfeeding both for the health of baby and for a breastfeeding mother.
The benefits of breastfeeding:
- Firstly, breast milk is a dynamic food, meaning that it is ever changing dependent on the needs of a baby. In hotter weather breast milk will become more liquid, to help keep baby hydrated. Additionally at the end of a feed the breast milk will often become more concentrated, signifying baby to come to the end of their feed. This helps encourage self-regulation. Over time the composition of breast milk also changes as baby grows and develops and their nutritional needs change.
- Breast milk contains antibodies and immune factors which help to build baby’s immune defences.
- Colostrum (the first milk secreted from the breast in the first few days after birth) also contains antibodies to provide immune support for baby straight away. This colostrum is also high in vitamin A, D and B12 which are all important in supporting and building baby’s own immune system.
- Breast milk has been shown to protect infants from gastrointestinal infections as well as containing enzymes which aid in digestion and absorption.
- Breastmilk also appears to be protective against allergies and eczema as well as other childhood diseases and infections (such as respiratory tract infections).
- Breast milk cannot be replicated
Benefits of breastfeeding for mum:
On top of this, there are some added benefits of breastfeeding for mothers too.
Firstly, breast milk is free which can save a great deal of money in a child’s first year of life (estimated around £700.00+ based on First Steps Nutrition Trust’s £16.00/week calculation.)
Additionally, it’s very convenient – you can do it anywhere and it doesn’t need sterilizing equipment, expensive bottles or varying teats. This also means less risk of contamination and bacteria which can occur if a feed isn’t made up correctly.
Lastly, the benefits of breastfeeding for mum include the fact that it uses up excess calories each day and reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer later in life.