Let’s be honest. Whoever said breastfeeding was easy was probably lying to you. Moms everywhere confess it’s really hard work! But here’s the good news: Breastmilk is one of the best things you can give your child in the first year of life—and even longer if possible. It’s loaded with nutrients and easier to digest than formula. It’s gentler on the pocketbook, too! In addition, your baby can reap the benefits of breastmilk well into childhood—and that’s great news because a child’s eating habits are hardwired by age 3.
Here are four more remarkable benefits of breastfeeding.
Breastfeeding moms have likened breastmilk to “liquid gold.” We like to think it might even be magical. Here’s something we bet you didn’t know about breastmilk before: When your baby nurses, tiny amounts of her saliva enter your nipple, which analyzes the germs she has been exposed to. Then, naturally, your body adds the perfect mix of immune boosters to the milk. Magic, right? That’s why breastfed babies are generally healthier, with fewer infections like earaches or pneumonia. Breastmilk also builds up healthy bacteria in your baby’s gut, helping prevent future illness.
Did you know that breastmilk introduces your baby to a variety of new flavors? While formula always tastes the same, your breastmilk tastes like whatever you’ve eaten. If your diet is healthy, your child is more likely to develop a taste for healthy foods as well. So make sure you take in lots of veggies and fruits.
Another little-known benefit of breastfeeding is that infants who feed from the breast are better at regulating how much they drink. They tend to stay in tune to their own hunger and fullness better than bottle-fed babies, who may overeat because they are encouraged to finish the bottle. Forcing a baby to finish a bottle teaches him to “eat with his eyes” instead of eating until he feels full.
Once again, breastmilk is magical. It even adjusts to your baby’s nutritional needs each day. As your baby matures over weeks and months, whatever her growing body needs, your body gives her.
- At the beginning of every feeding, your baby receives breastmilk filled with lots of protein to build muscle, and water to quench her thirst. As the feeding continues, the fat content increases to give baby the calories she needs to grow and help her feel full.
- Nighttime breastmilk has more melatonin, a hormone that helps her body know it’s time for sleep.
Your body somehow knows how to adjust the nutrients, fats, vitamins and minerals in your breastmilk to meet the needs of a child at any age—from 2 days old to 2 months and then on to 2 years.
What’s in it for you? This is probably the last thing you ask yourself when your baby wakes up hungry at 2 a.m. But if you’re being honest, it might also be the exact thought that gets you out of bed some nights instead of sending your partner in with a bottle. And that’s OK! Just know that you are benefiting just as much as the baby is.
For one, nursing can help you recover from childbirth more quickly, and some women find it easier to shed their pregnancy weight while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can also be good for your emotional health. It can reduce your stress level and risk of postpartum depression. Studies have also shown that nursing lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer and may help prevent Type 2 diabetes, heart disease and rheumatoid arthritis. So even if your baby never thanks you for all your hard work, you can still feel confident knowing you put both your and your baby’s health first.