“Breastfeeding has long been framed as a child health issue. However it is clearly a women’s health issue as well,Breastfeeding helps prevent cancer, diabetes and heart disease, yet many women have no idea breastfeeding has any of these benefits,” says Dr. Eleanor Bimla Schwarz, professor of medicine at UC Davis Health System.
Physiology of Breast Feeding
When you become pregnant, your breasts start getting ready to produce milk. These changes are the result of four main hormones namely estrogen, progesterone, prolactin and oxytocin. These hormones help the ducts and glandular tissue (alveoli) to grow and increase in size.
In the third trimester, your breasts start to make the first milk colostrum. After the birth of your baby,your body starts to make more milk. In the next few days of your baby’s birth,the color of milk will become whiter and watery in texture.
The hormones progesterone and estrogen released by the placenta during the pregnancy prepare your breasts for milk production. These hormones increase the size and number of milk ducts in your breast. They prevent your body from making large amounts of breast milk until your baby is born.
After the birth of your child prolactin levels increase, and these hormones help in the milk secretion. Prolactin is released in the body each time you breastfeed or pump.
If the degree of this hormone is too low, then your milk supply will decrease.So it is highly recommended that you breastfeed or pump right after delivery and then at regular time frames.
When your baby starts to suck,oxytocingets released in your body.The release of this hormone squeezes the fluid out of the alveoli, into the ducts and finally into the mouth of your baby. This process is called let-down or milk ejection reflex.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for Mothers
Aids in Weight Loss
Breastfeeding helps you to lose weight because it is calorically costly. You devote an estimated 525 to 625 calories per day producing about 750mL milk your baby needs during the first year of life. Breastfeeding moms experience a calorific shortfall, and they don’t report more hunger than non-breastfeeding moms.
A Danish study that followed more than 20,000 women from pregnancy to 18 months following childbirth found that women who exclusively breastfed for the recommended six months after birth lost an additional two kilograms of pregnancy-related weight than women who breastfed for only shorter durations.
A systemic review of 20 studies found that exclusively breastfeeding your kids for the first six months following childbirth provides significantly greater post pregnancy weightloss than with mixed forms of breastfeeding.
Reduces Risk of Metabolic Syndrome
Existing scientific literature shows us that women with a history of breastfeeding have little danger of developing metabolic syndrome.
Metabolic syndrome is a cluster of conditions such as increased blood pressure, excess body fat around the waist, high blood sugar and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. These conditions occur together and increase your risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.
An article published in the Journal of Women’s Health says thata research study of more than 4,700 women aged between 19-50 years found that duration of breastfeeding linked up with thedecreased risk of individual components of metabolic syndrome such as blood glucose, blood pressure, and cholesterol.
The abovestudy shows that women who spend longer durationbreastfeeding during their lifespan have higher chances of lowering their risk of metabolic syndrome and related disorders including elevated blood pressure, triglyceride levels, and glucose.
A cross-sectional analysis of 2,516 midlife women found a twenty percent reduction in the risk of developing metabolic syndrome for every added year of breastfeeding the women reported.
The study authors note that breastfeeding primes the body to become more metabolicallyefficient. This process is known as reset hypothesis. It states that breastfeeding reverses gestational increase in insulin resistance, fat accumulation, lipid, and triglyceride levels quickly and efficiently.
Scientists believe that the reset process causes long-term positive effects on women’s health and reduces the risk for metabolic syndrome.
Breastfeeding Reduce Type 2 Diabetes Risk
About 5-9 percent of women in the US develop high blood sugar levels even though they didn’t have diabetes before pregnancy. This condition called as gestational diabetes drastically increases a woman’s risk for type 2 diabetes later in life.
In type 2 diabetes the cells don’t respond appropriately to insulin, a hormone that signals cells to take in sugar glucose from the blood. If you leave it, untreated blood sugar levels can raise and may lead to heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, and amputation.
Researchers have found that breastfeeding increases your insulin sensitivity and improves your glucose metabolism. A team of researchers studied more than 1000 ethnicallydifferent women who had gestational diabetes.
The research staff assessed the women’s lactation intensity and duration. During the two-yearfollow-up, 113 out of 1,010 women without diabetes at the start of the study developed type 2 diabetes.
The researchers found that women who solely breastfed or mostly breastfed had 50 percent reduced chances of developing type 2 diabetes as those who didn’t breastfeed. The researchers say that breastfeeding for longer than two months lowered the risk of type 2 diabetes by almost one-half. Breastfeeding beyond five months reduced the risk by more than one-half.
“Both the level and duration of breastfeeding may offer unique benefits to women during the post-delivery period for protection against the development of type 2 diabetes after gestational diabetes,” says Dr. Erica P. Gunderson at the Kaiser Permanente Division of Research.
Lowers the Risk of Cardiovascular Disease
Diet and exercise are famously known for reducing heart disease risk. Scientists wanted to know the impact on whether a woman’s decision to breastfeed her children may have on her future risk of cardiovascular diseases.
The Women’s Health Initiative involved 161,808 healthy postmenopausal women who were 50 to 79 years of age on enrollment. The researchers also examined their lactation history. In this study, researchers examined five cardiovascular risk factors: obesity, hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia, and a history of CVDbefore enrolling in the WHI.
The results found that women who reported longer histories of lactation had significantly lower rates of risk factors for CVD. Women who had breastfed for over 12 months had a 10 percent reduced risk of developing CVD than those who never breastfed. The researchers say that lactation does more thanjustcutting a woman’s fat stores. The effects of hormones such as oxytocin may have a significant effect on CVD.
Reduces Breast Cancer Risk
Breastfeeding may protect you against breast and ovarian cancers by suppressing ovulation and thus limiting lifetime estrogen exposure. Studies show that breastfeeding might significantly lower the risk of even aggressive forms of breast cancer.
Reduced estrogen exposure may reduce the possibility of breast cancer because estrogen increases the rate of breast cell proliferation and differentiation. This action gives way for more mutations to occur that fuel cancer growth.
A large-scale analysis of approximately 150,000 women published in The Lancet foundthat breastfeeding for every 12 months lowered the risk of breast cancer by 4.3 percent.
A 2000 study of more than 60,000 women found that women with a family history of breast cancer could reduce their chances of getting breast cancer by nearly 60 percent if they had breastfed earlier. The Archives of Internal Medicine has published the study.
Lowers the Risk of Ovarian Cancer
A study published in the print version of American Journal of Nutrition says that breastfeeding can cut the risk of ovarian cancer by 91 percent. The ovarian cancer is so deadly that spotting it is relatively rare, so much so only 20 percent of ovarian cancers are detected early.
Researchers from Curtin University in Australia conducted the study. The investigators found that women who breastfed for over thirteenmonths had 63 percent fewer chances of developing an ovarian tumor than women who breastfed for less than seven months.
Mothers who breastfed for over 31 months and who had three kids had 91 percent fewer chances of developing ovarian cancer than women who women breastfed for only ten months.
Scientists believe that breastfeeding can prevent ovarian cancer because it can delay ovulation. The more the ovulations occur, the more the risk of cell mutations which can trigger the disease.
Fights Against Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder that arises when your immune system mistakenly attacks your own body’s tissues.
Scientists say that breastfeeding can reduce your risk of rheumatoid arthritis. In a study of over 7000 Chinese women breastfeeding especially for longer duration linked up with a lowered risk of rheumatoid arthritis.
The study results showed that women who breastfed their children were around half as likely to have rheumatoid arthritis when compared to women who had never breastfed.
Another study from Harvard’s Brigham and Women’s Hospital found that nursing for a total of two years decreased the risk of RA by 50 percent while nursing for 12 to 23 months lowered the risk by 20 percent.
Nursing seems to permanently alter the levels of female hormones like estrogen and certain androgens thought to play a role in this destabilizing condition.
Maternity coupled with day-to-day chores can be a stressful period for new mothers. Nature has provided mothers with a natural stress buster – breastfeeding. Oxytocin is Mother Nature’s weapon against stress.
Scientists from the Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, Kerstin Uvnas-Mobery, the global authority on oxytocin, found in a series of experiments that nursing moms tend to be less reactive to stress hormones, less suspicious, less physically tense and less bored. They were also calmer and more sociable when tested for these traits than mothers of comparable ages who aren’t breastfeeding.
Scientists say that oxytocin not only lowers blood pressure but also inhibits the release of stress hormone glucocorticoid. The prolactin dubbed the ‘parenting hormone’ dampens fear and anxiety by inhibiting the amygdala (the part of the brain responsible for fear responses).
These hormones are elevated each time the baby suckles at the breast reaching blood levels of eight times the norm. Thus the anti-stress mechanisms of breastfeeding moms are frequently activated and buffered.
Breastfeeding Reduces Postpartum Depression
Although the birth of a child typically brings joy and fulfillment many women experience feelings of hopelessness and despair instead. Postpartum depression is a devastating mental condition that affects 13 percent of women worldwide within first two weeks after giving birth.
Depression has some negative consequences for both the mother and the kids. If you’re depressed, it can affect your child’s cognitive, emotional and behavioral development. Maternal distress adversely affects broader family relationships and can lead to marital discord.
A study ofover 10,000 mothers has found that women who breastfeed their babies have significantly lower risk of developing postpartum depression than those who did not.
The study published in the journal Maternal and Child Health shows that mothers who planned to breastfeed and who did so were 50 percent less likely to become depressed than mothers who did not plan to and who did not breastfeed.
When you nurse your baby, beneficial hormones are released into your body and strengthen the maternal bond. The relationship you develop with your child during breastfeeding significantly enhances your emotional health. This action results in fewer feelings of anxiety and a stronger sense of connection with the child. This attitude sets the health and psychological foundation for years to come.
Recent studies say that oxytocin is important for maternal bonding. Plasma oxytocin levels predict more maternal behaviors such as eye gaze, positive affect, vocalizations, tender touch and more attachment-related thoughts. Breastfeeding gives greater bursts of oxytocin which leads to higher levels of maternal bonding. If a woman is happy, it boosts her overall immunity and self-confidence.
Breastfeeding is cost effective way of feeding your infant. It provides the best nourishment for your child. If you nurse your baby, your uterus returns to normal size more quickly and helps in reduced blood loss. Exclusive breastfeeding reduces your fertility levels, and by spacing births, you can recuperate before conceiving again.
Nursing helps you to get the much-needed rest by requiring that you sit down or lie down with the baby every few hours to feed. Breastfeeding your babies makes them healthier; they don’t often fall sick, so you miss less work and spend less money on pediatric care.
During breastfeeding, endorphins are released in your body which contributes to your overall well-being and gives you a natural high.
If you’re a new mom or planning to breastfeed your baby, then the above tips will be beneficial in keeping you motivated to breastfeed your baby.