The Benefits of Breastfeeding- Student Article

The following is a student blog post by Sarah Lavelle

 

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Sarah Lavelle

BAI Certified Doula

June 25, 2014

Breastfeeding has become a public discussion as of late: where to do it, how to talk about it, and who is allowed to weigh in on the debate. One thing that is difficult to disagree with, however, is the questions of whether or not to breastfeed. It seems to be common knowledge that breastfeeding has health benefits for the baby, health benefits for the mother, and emotional benefits for both.

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The health benefits for baby begin accruing from the first latch. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ Policy Statement on Breastfeeding and the Use of Human Milk, breastmilk is the easiest source of nutrients for a baby’s formerly sterile digestive system to digest. The living cells in their mother’s milk create the healthy future gut flora of their baby. Additionally, exclusively breastfeeding keeps foreign allergens out of baby’s food supply. A mother’s milk changes to meet her baby’s need not only from one time to another (colostrum, a mother’s first milk in baby’s first days), but from the beginning to end of each feeding. It would be impossible to personalize an artificial formula to this degree.

The health benefits for the mother also begin at the first feeding. The nipple stimulation of a feeding soon after birth hastens the expulsion of the placenta. After that, the release of oxytocin that nursing causes continues to stimulate uterine toning, helping the uterus to return to normal tone and size more quickly, and lessening the chances of a mother hemorrhaging postpartum, according to a 1994 study in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Additionally, nursing helps women lose weight at a safe rate, and decreases a woman’s chances of experiencing breast and/or ovarian cancer later in life, according to a 2003 cohort study published in the International Journal of Cancer. Finally, exclusively breastfeeding can act as a contraceptive for several months postpartum, allowing mother’s body to heal without the added stress of supporting another life inside her.

One only has to look at a mother nursing her child to observe the emotional benefits of breastfeeding. Mary Ann Cahill, a co-founder of La Leche League eloquently said of breastfeeding, “It’s nature’s careful way of providing a transition from the infant’s old work to his new one…The all-important mother-child bond replaces the umbilical cord.” When a mother and child share the skin contact, eye contact, and mutual sensual pleasure of giving and receiving breastmilk, they form a powerful attachment that will be the foundation for their relationship for life. Nursing in the hospital can claim a private and sacred space in what can feel like a cold, impersonal place. Also, the physical realities of nursing cause a mother to pay attention to her child’s needs and cues, as well as pay more attention to her own body and its needs and cues than a new mother might otherwise. Nursing can help a mother feel confident, knowing that there is something she can do for her child than none other can.

Of course there are other known benefits to breastfeeding: It is thrifty, because a woman already has all the equipment and supplies she needs, it is eco-friendly, as there is no packaging or waste, and it is convenient – the breast goes where the woman goes! Beyond this though, there is a more intangible benefit: the universality of the act of bringing a baby, helpless and completely dependent, up to a mother’s full breast, where they will share an act both completely miraculous and completely mundane. Women and babies all over the world connect on a spiritual level through this shared and sacred act.

Sarah Lavelle is a birth doula and teacher in Long Beach, CA. She loves cooking, camping, writing, and helping women to have the births they dream of. You can contact her at goldenlotusdoula@gmail.com or at her website, goldenlotusdoula.wordpress.com.

If you would like to become a doula or breastfeeding educator come and visit our program pages and see what options are available for you.

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