Feeding your baby breast milk does more good than you might think. Here are 18 (mostly) surprising benefits.
You've likey heard that breastfeeding can confer some pretty impressive benefits to your baby—reduced ear infections and asthma, maybe even a bump in IQ among them. Turns out there are even more perks for your little one, not to mention for you, society and even Mother Earth.
1. Fewer infections “The incidence of pneumonia, colds and viruses is reduced among breastfed babies,” says infant- nutrition expert Ruth A. Lawrence, M.D., a professor of pediatrics and OB-GYN at the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in Rochester, N.Y., and the author of Breastfeeding: A Guide for the Medical Profession (Elsevier-Mosby). Gastrointestinal infections like diarrhea—which can be devastating, especially in developing countries—are also less common.
2. Reduced risk of chronic illnesses Breastfeed your baby and you reduce his risk of developing chronic conditions, such as type I diabetes, celiac disease and Crohn’s disease (inflammation of the digestive tract).
3. Less chance of SIDS Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome by about half.
4. A leaner baby—and a leaner mom It’s more likely that neither of you will become obese if you breastfeed.
5. Faster recovery from pregnancy and childbirth The oxytocin secreted when your baby nurses helps your uterus contract, reducing post-delivery blood loss. Plus, breastfeeding will help your uterus return to its normal size more quickly—at about six weeks postpartum, compared with 10 weeks if you don’t breastfeed.
6. Lower risk of some cancers Breastfeeding can decrease your baby’s risk of some childhood cancers. And you’ll have a lower risk of premenopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer, an often deadly disease that’s on the rise. You may also reduce your risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis.
7. Confidence boost “There’s nothing more empowering as a new mother than seeing your baby grow and thrive on your breast milk alone,” Lawrence says.
8. Bigger calorie burn You may have heard that breastfeeding burns an extra 400 to 500 calories a day. And that’s almost right. “Breastfeeding doesn’t burn calories, but it does use them,” Lawrence explains. “Breast milk contains 20 calories per ounce, so if you feed your baby 20 ounces a day, that’s 400 calories you’ve swept right out of your body.”
9. A green machine Dairy cows, which are raised in part to make infant formula, are a significant contributor to global warming: Their belching, manure and flatulence (really!) spew enormous amounts of methane, a harmful greenhouse gas, into the atmosphere. “Plus, most formula companies don’t purchase milk from American farmers, so they’re not even helping our economy,” Lawrence says.