If you are a new or expectant parent, you’re probably aware of some of the important health benefits of breast milk for babies.
Breastfeeding helps to build your baby’s immune system and reduces your baby’s risk of respiratory illnesses, childhood leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome.
Because of these benefits, The World Health Organization recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of your baby’s life, with the continuation of breastfeeding alongside complementary family foods until your baby reaches 2 years of age and beyond.
But did you know that there are many amazing breastfeeding benefits for mothers too?
Discover 8 breastfeeding benefits for mothers.
Breastfeeding Benefits #1. Reduces a mother’s risk of breast and ovarian cancer
Research has found that breastfeeding protects a woman against breast and ovarian cancer. The longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk of cancer of the breast and ovaries.
Research shows that breastfeeding moms have a lower risk of both pre and post menopausal breast cancer and that the reduction in risk increases in relation to breastfeeding duration.
This is believed to be due to the hormones released during lactation that limit a woman’s lifetime exposure to other hormones like estrogen.
A 2020 study of close to 10,000 women with cancer of the ovaries found that breastfeeding was associated with a 24% lower risk.
Ever having breastfed, for any time from 1 to 3 months, was associated with an 18% reduction in risk; breastfeeding for 12 months or more was associated with a 34% lower risk.
This shows that the longer a woman breastfeeds, the lower her ovarian cancer risk overall.
Breastfeeding Benefits #2. Lowers a mother’s risk of type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure
As well as lowering your baby’s risk of type 2 diabetes, breastfeeding provides a lower risk of diabetes and high blood pressure for mothers too.
According to the American Diabetes Association, breastfeeding for longer than two months halves the risk of developing type 2 diabetes in mothers with gestational diabetes. This is because the hormones involved in breastfeeding help your body to process glucose and insulin more effectively.
A 2011 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found that mothers who breastfeed for six months are at lower risk of high blood pressure than mothers who feed their babies formula.
Breastfeeding Benefits #3. It’s a natural contraception
When you are exclusively breastfeeding (which means your baby has only breast milk and no supplemental feeds), hormones temporarily stop your body from releasing eggs (ovulating).
This is sometimes referred to as ‘mother nature’s way’ of preventing a woman from getting pregnant again too soon after the birth of her baby.
The Lactation Amenorrhea Method (LAM) is a method of contraception that is 98% effective in the following circumstances:
- You are exclusively breastfeeding during the day and overnight
- Your period has not returned
- Your baby is under 6 months old.
Talk to your healthcare provider if you are unsure whether the LAM is a suitable option for contraception.
Breastfeeding Benefits #4. Releases ‘feel-good’ hormones
When you breastfeed your baby, your body releases a cocktail of hormones. One of these is the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is sometimes referred to as the ‘feel-good’ hormone and is best know for its role in bonding and attachment.
Oxytocin is also believed to play a role in the reduction of postpartum depression.
You can read more about postpartum depression in BellyBelly’s article Postpartum Depression Symptoms | 9 Signs You Have PPD.
If you are not breastfeeding, oxytocin can also be released by having skin to skin contact with your baby.
Breastfeeding Benefits #5. Helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy state faster
When your body releases the ‘feel-good’ hormone oxytocin, it helps your uterus contract. Post-birth contractions get your uterus back to its pre-pregnancy size faster and reduce the overall amount of vaginal bleeding and risk of postpartum haemorrhage.
In the early days of breastfeeding, some mothers feel their uterus contract every time they feed their baby. Some describe the pain as mild period-like cramps; others compare it with early labor pains.
Generally speaking, the cramps will be less intense after your first birth and more painful with additional pregnancies and births. This is due to the loss of muscle tone in your uterus in subsequent pregnancies.
You can read more about this in BellyBelly’s article Afterbirth Pains – What You Need To Know.
Breastfeeding Benefits #6. Can help you lose weight
One of the benefits of breastfeeding is that it burns up to 500 calories (over 2,000 kilojoules) per day.
The importance of postpartum weight loss is not about reaching your pre-pregnancy weight in the shortest amount of time possible.
Maintaining a healthy weight lowers the risk of metabolic disease, which lowers the risk of diabetes, stroke and heart disease.
For more information on weight loss after giving birth, you can read BellyBelly’s article How To Lose Belly Fat After Giving Birth – 7 Effective Tips.
Breastfeeding Benefits #7. Is convenient and cost effective
Once breastfeeding is well established, it is the most convenient way of feeding your baby.
As long as you and your baby are together, your baby’s breast milk is always ready – at the right temperature, in the right amount, anywhere and anytime.
Your breast milk continually adapts to your baby’s changing needs – from the very first taste of colostrum to the mature milk your baby continues to drink for the course of your breastfeeding journey.
As well as being convenient, feeding your baby breast milk will save you the cost of baby formula, which is estimated at over $1,000 per baby, per year.
If you are finding breastfeeding anything but convenient, reach out to a lactation consultant for support.
A lactation consultant is a specially trained health professional who can help you breastfeed successfully. You can find a directory of International Board Certified Lactation Consultants (IBCLC) in Australia and New Zealand here.
Breastfeeding Benefits #8. Parents of breastfed babies get more sleep
Some parents might find this one of the most welcome benefits of breastfeeding.
Human milk contains hormones that help induce sleep in breastfed infants.
An Australian 2007 study of 133 parents with 3 month old babies found the parents of exclusively breastfed babies averaged 40-45 minutes more sleep than parents who were formula feeding at night.
Another US study showed that exclusively breastfeeding women averaged 30 minutes more sleep per night than parents who used infant formula at night.
In additional studies, it was found that the sleeping patterns of mothers of 2-4 month old babies was negatively correlated with formula feeding and positively correlated with breastfeeding.