Breastfeeding: The Benefits for Parents
We tend to write long blogs. To keep things simpler for new parents (who, let’s be real, don’t have time to read really long blog posts), we will discuss breastfeeding benefits in two smaller posts. This blog post will be focused on the perks of breastfeeding to new parents and the next one will be on the perks for babies. Let’s dive in!
Are you considering breastfeeding? If you have done research into breastfeeding vs. formula feeding, you undoubtedly read, “Breast is best”. But what does that mean and why? For who?
Today, we’ll explore the benefits for parents. For a great introduction to breastfeeding, check out this 10-min video by Osmosis (partnered with Rush Medical College).
Breastfeeding can help you recover from childbirth in a few ways.
First, it helps the uterus shrink.
Whether you had the crunchiest, unmedicated vaginal delivery in the woods or a scheduled cesarean birth in the most scientific, teaching hospital, your uterus had a tough job. Throughout your almost 10 months of pregnancy, your uterus grew from normal size (around the size of your fist) to the size of your baby, placenta, and amniotic fluid. Now it must shrink back down in a much shorter time frame. This is an important job! If it doesn’t, you can have excessive bleeding (postpartum hemorrhage).
How does your uterus accomplish this amazing transformation so quickly? By using a hormone called oxytocin. You may have heard about oxytocin (or the synthetic version, “Pitocin”) because it causes uterine contractions during labor. It also makes your uterus contract after labor to shrink it back down to pre-pregnancy size.
So how can we get more oxytocin to help our uterus recover? Breastfeeding! Nursing releases oxytocin. This means every time you nurse, you help it shrink, decreasing your postpartum bleeding overall.
Second, breastfeeding can delay your period and give free, natural contraception.
Exclusive breastfeeding can cause “lactational amenorrhea (LAM)”, which is a fancy way of saying, “no period because you are nursing!”. It’s your body’s way of knowing it cannot support a new pregnancy because it is still recovering from the last one. LAM has a few perks. Right after childbirth, your iron stores are depleted from the normal blood loss of childbirth. To help you replenish your iron stores, your body stops having periods. LAM can increase this from 6-8wks (in those not breastfeeding) to 6+ months (in those nursing exclusively).
Breastfeeding also allows you a natural form of contraception (protection against a new pregnancy) because you aren’t ovulating (releasing a new egg that can cause a pregnancy). This is the one place we don't agree with the introductory video above. For more information, check out this La Leche League article about the effectiveness of LAM as contraception.
Two quick disclaimers: first, you need to be exclusively breastfeeding (which means not supplementing with formula, food, or even pacifiers, depending on what source you read) every 2-3 hours, including overnight. Second, you ovulate before your first period so you can get pregnant even if your periods haven’t returned yet. Talk to your medical provider if you have any questions or concerns about LAM as contraception.
Breastfeeding can decrease your risk of chronic medical conditions and cancers later in life.
It seems like we are always finding out a new thing that causes cancer. But can you believe breastfeeding can help you to avoid it? Breastfeeding decreases your risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Nursing also decrease your risk for diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol and high blood pressure! Can you imagine how expensive a medication or supplement would be that could make such claims?!
Interestingly, there is actually a new study that shows breastmilk can actually help treat cancer too.
Breastfeeding burns calories, helping you lose your pregnancy weight.
We hate talking about losing pregnancy weight!! We think we, as a society, put so much pressure to return to our pre-pregnancy figure instantly and we think that hurts new parents. It took 9+ months to get there, give your body some time to lose it safely! Regardless, breastfeeding can help. Nursing consumes 300-500 calories per day. Not bad for sitting with your feet propped up, eh?
Breastfeeding is free and convenient!
Breastfeeding doesn't cost you any extra money. When you are nursing, breast milk is always the right temperature and is available anywhere you are. You're not dealing with bottles or powders while out of the house and there is no risk of mixing it wrong (which can be dangerous if you do it incorrectly with formula).
Last but definitely not least, breastfeeding can help you bond with your baby.
Oxytocin is primarily released in a few situations: during labor, sex, and nursing. It allows a feeling of love and bonding, earning it the nickname “the love hormone”. Oxytocin can make you feel blissful while nursing and helps you to feel connected with your newborn.
But we'll support you however you choose to feed your baby!
Our caveat to this whole article is that breastfeeding is awesome and works for many families. But you need to do what works for your family, whether that is breastfeeding, formula-feeding, or both. We want to give you all the information available and support you, however you choose to feed your newborn.