As all my pregnant patients and patients who have given birth under my watch know, I am a
tremendous advocate of breastfeeding. And since September is one of my busiest delivery
months , I thought this would be the perfect time to tell you about the many benefits
breastfeeding has to offer. Some you may already know. Some may surprise you.
The list of breastfeeding's disease-fighting effects is long and well researched: Numerous
studies have shown that babies who are nursed have fewer bouts of diarrhea and have lower
incidence of inflammatory bowel disease later in life as well as lower rates of respiratory
illnesses and ear infections and when they do have these issues, they are less severe.
Researchers have found that immune factors that are present in colostrum (the first milk your
body produces) guard against invading germs by forming a protective layer on your baby's
mucous membranes in the intestines, nose, and throat. Several studies have found that
breastfeeding helps protect against developing food or respiratory allergies and at least one
study has found that this protection appears to last well into adolescence. Exclusive
breastfeeding (meaning no solid food) for at least six months seems to offer the most protection
Once you stop breastfeeding, the advantages stay with your baby for life. For one thing, some
studies suggest she'll be smarter, gaining an additional 5-7 IQ points partly because of
emotional bonding that takes place and also because the fatty acids in breast milk seem to play
a significant role in brain development. Breastfed babies are less likely to have weight problems
as well; compared with formula-fed infants, they gain weight more slowly in the first weeks of life
which is associated with lower body weight later in life. The reason for this may be that
breastfed babies are better at regulating their feedings, leading to healthier eating patterns as
they grow or the fact that breast milk contains less insulin, a fat-stimulating hormone, than
formula. In the past several years, investigations have also found that breastfed babies have
more of the hormone leptin in their system, a brain chemical that has been shown to play a key
role in regulating appetite and fat storage.
Benefits to the nursing mom begin immediately after birth when the repeated suckling of the
baby releases oxytocin from the mother's pituitary gland. This hormone produces contractions
in the uterus which help prevent postpartum hemorrhage and promote uterine involution (the
return to a non-pregnant state). Numerous studies have shown that women who breastfeed
have lower risks of developing breast cancer including one large worldwide investigation that
concluded the incidence of breast cancer in developed countries could be reduced by more
than half if women practiced the lifetime duration of breastfeeding that have been common in
developing countries until recently. According to the analysis, breastfeeding could account for
almost two-thirds of this estimated reduction in breast cancer incidence. If you're more
concerned with vanity than disease, nursing can help here too. Though nursing is not an express
ticket to weight loss, as some women mistakenly believe, the balance of research suggests that
breastfeeding women tend to lose weight more rapidly than their formula feeding counterparts.
In one study breastfeeding mothers were back to their pre-pregnancy weight by six months,
whereas the formula feeding women were not.
In this day and age of $4 per gallon gas and $5 per gallon milk, breastfeeding is a bargain - it's
free. Say your baby drinks about 40 ounces of formula a day. It will cost you an average of $6 a
day to feed her and over the course of the year you'll spend nearly $2,200 on formula. Even if
you buy a pump and all the paraphernalia that comes with it, breastfeeding still comes out
ahead. There is also mounting evidence to suggest breastfeeding moms and babies have lower
health care costs because they require fewer sick care visits and hospitalizations.
You can safely lose one pound
per week while breastfeeding.
To ensure your health and your baby's
health, aim to eat 1800-2200 calories per
day and never fewer than 1500 calories.
Dr. Corio's Recommendations
Babies should be breastfed
exclusively for the first six months of
life. Ideally, nursing should continue
with support by other liquids and
solid foods for a full year. WIth a little
guidance, almost every woman can
breastfeed successfully. Just ask me
if you have questions or concerns!
Or, consult with one of the excellent
lactation consultants at Mt. Sinai