"Breastfeeding empowers mothers as it is one of the unique powers a woman is given whereby she can provide the perfect food for her baby with her own body," says Lynda Lilienfeld of the South African Certified Lactation Consultants. It’s true that breastfeeding has long been touted as best for baby – it is the ideal nutrition for them, provides immunity to infections that the mother has developed antibodies to, lowers their risk of developing asthma and allergies, and has even been linked to higher IQ scores in later childhood – and the benefits for mothers can be just as far-reaching.
Breastfeeding's many benefits
On a physical level, many new mothers credit breastfeeding with helping them to shed the weight they picked up during pregnancy, but it also assists the body in other maybe less obvious, but very important ways. Lilienfeld explains, "Breastfeeding facilitates weight loss, reduces the risk of the mother developing breast cancer and reduces her risk of developing osteoporosis. It also protects the mother with the metabolising of blood sugar, which may lower her insulin levels, and it lowers her risk of developing metabolic syndrome (which consists of a cluster of heart disease risk factors)."
Breastfeeding also causes the mother’s brain to release a hormone called oxytocin, which plays a role in helping the uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may also reduce uterine bleeding. And it plays another noteworthy role: oxytocin is also known as the "love hormone", says Lilienfeld, "And it helps mom to bond with her baby." The psychological benefits for new moms don’t stop here either. Lilienfeld adds, "Breastfeeding and exercise reduce maternal stress, are protective of maternal mood and also decreases the risk of postnatal depression."
How long should you try breastfeed for?
Importantly, remember that a healthy baby is a happy baby, which means less stress for new mothers and more time simply relaxing with their little ones. "The latest guidelines from the World Health Organization with regard to breastfeeding are for mothers to exclusively breastfeed for six months before complementing her breastfeeding with suitable solid foods until the age of two years old and beyond," says Lilienfeld, adding that unfortunately the majority of mothers need to return to work where it is not always possible to do this. "But," she stresses, "the longer baby is breastfed the more they will reap the benefits from it."
While breastfeeding is as natural as it gets in terms of caring for your child, some women do struggle to breastfeed, but much of this stress can be avoided by getting things off to the right start as soon as the baby is born. "It is advisable for mothers to be kept together with their newborns, skin to skin, from birth for as long as possible, not allowing the babies to be taken away from mom to a nursery, unless either of them is ill," advises Lilienfeld. "Thereafter, if mom has a problem with breastfeeding, she can contact a lactation consultant for advice and help."
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