Every year, the first week of August is observed as World Breastfeeding Week which aims at raising awareness about the benefits of breastfeeding. This year the theme is “support breastfeeding for a healthier planet”.
Breastfeeding is the act of providing sustenance to an infant. And yet, there is a stigma associated with the practice. Many women are made to feel uncomfortable about breastfeeding in public places like restaurants and offices, either because of the continuous stares and rude comments being passed by the people around or due to the lack of a well-suited place for the mom and baby to sit down for a feed.
Breastfeeding is as natural a process as one can be and is not only beneficial for the baby but also for the mother in different ways. There is a growing need to counter this lack of understanding, support and infrastructure so that women and children are better able to reap the benefits of breastfeeding.
Benefits of breastfeeding for the baby
Breastfeeding is essential for a baby’s growth and development. Doctors recommend that an infant should be exclusively breastfed for at least the first six months. Apart from the fats, proteins, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins, breast milk contains various elements which are essential for the protection of brain cells. Some of these important elements are:
- Breast milk contains IgA antibodies which protect the baby from various illnesses and infections caused by different bacteria and viruses.
- Breast milk contains leukocytes (the white blood cells) and stem cells which are required by the baby to build immunity, develop organs and heal injuries.
- Breast milk contains a number of enzymes which help the baby in digesting food and absorbing iron. These enzymes also help the baby strengthen their immune system.
- Breast milk contains more than 200 oligosaccharides (complex sugars) which act as prebiotics, thus maintaining the levels of good bacteria in the gut of the baby.
- Colostrum (the first milk) contains growth factors like epidermal growth factor and insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I) which are required by the baby for maintaining a healthy gastrointestinal tract.
- Breast milk contains hormones such as leptin, adiponectin, IGF-I, ghrelin, obestatin and resistin which help in managing the baby’s appetite and sleep patterns.
- Studies have shown that infants who have been breastfed are 15 to 30% less likely to have childhood obesity.
Benefits of breastfeeding for the mother
Some of these benefits of breastfeeding for the mother are as follows:
1. Studies have shown that women who breastfeed lose more weight than those who don’t. Women who breastfeed may not notice any weight loss for the first three months after delivery but experience an increase in burning of fat after three months of lactation.
2. Oxytocin is an essential hormone for during and after the delivery. During the delivery, oxytocin helps in inducing the contractions, thus helping in delivering the baby. After the delivery, this hormone helps the uterus to get back to its normal shape. Breastfeeding helps in increasing the levels of oxytocin in the body, thus reducing the bleeding from the uterus, and encourages it to shrink back to normal at a faster rate.
3. Studies have also revealed that women who breastfeed for more than 12 months during their lifetime are 28% less likely to develop breast and ovarian cancer.
4. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of getting postpartum depression which affects almost 15% of the women after delivery. It is believed that oxytocin has anti-anxiety effects and since breastfeeding increases the release of oxytocin in the body, the chances of getting postpartum depression go down.
For more information, read our article on Benefits of breastfeeding.
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