By Kathy Hubbard
I was a teenager when I went to Italy the first time. There, in a centuries old church, I saw a woman breast feeding her baby. Right there in front of God and everybody. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen a woman breastfeeding, but, it was the first time I had seen it done in public.
What struck me most was the look on the young mother’s face. She was at absolute peace. She looked like the sculpture of the Madonna that she was sitting near. My thought was, “What a beautiful bond she is creating between herself and her child.”
There are strong feelings about breastfeeding in public, so I won’t go there. There are also opinions on whether or not to breastfeed and, if so, for how long and I won’t go there either. But, in honor of National Breast Feeding Month, I will give you a little background in what the benefits are.
“Breast milk provides the ideal nutrition for infants. It has a nearly perfect mix of vitamins, protein, and fat — everything your baby needs to grow. And it’s all provided in a form more easily digested than infant formula,” says WebMD’s website.
“Breast milk contains antibodies that help your baby fight off viruses and bacteria. Breastfeeding lowers your baby’s risk of having asthma or allergies. Plus, babies who are breastfed exclusively for the first six months, without any formula, have fewer ear infections, respiratory illnesses, and bouts of diarrhea. They also have fewer hospitalizations and trips to the doctor.”
There is some speculation that babies who’ve been breastfed have higher IQ scores, but that hasn’t been proven.
The Association of American Pediatrics says that breastfeeding helps babies gain the correct amount of weight and may prevent obesity and lower the risk of diabetes. And, there’s some evidence that breastfeeding can prevent Sudden Infant Death Syndrome.
The physical closeness of nursing helps the baby to bond to its mother and many mothers feel fulfillment and joy from the communion with their child.
“These feelings are augmented by the release of hormones such as prolactin, which produces a peaceful, nurturing sensation that allows you to relax and focus on your child, and oxytocin, which promotes a strong sense of love and attachment between the two of you,” AAP says.
But, the health benefits go way beyond the emotional satisfaction. “Mothers who breastfeed recover from childbirth more quickly and easily. The hormone oxytocin, released during breastfeeding, acts to return the uterus to its regular size more quickly and can reduce postpartum bleeding. Studies show that women who have breastfed experience reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer later in life.
“Some studies have found that breastfeeding may reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, and cardiovascular disease, including high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Finally, exclusive breastfeeding delays the return of the mother’s menstrual period, which can help extend the time between pregnancies.”
The other bright side is that human milk is cheaper than formula. “During nursing you will need, at most, an extra 400 to 500 calories daily to produce sufficient milk for your baby, while formula can cost between $4 and $10 per day, depending upon the brand, type (powdered versus liquid), and amount consumed,” AAP explains.
“At night, putting a baby to your breast is much simpler and faster than getting up to prepare or warm a bottle of formula. It’s wonderful, too, to be able to pick up the baby and go out—whether around town or on longer trips—without having to carry a bag full of feeding equipment.
“Breastfeeding is also good for the environment, since there are no bottles to wash or formula cans to throw away.”
So much for the practicality of it all, the AAP sums it up beautifully, “Breastfeeding provides a unique emotional experience for the nursing mother and the baby. Breastfeeding is the one parenting behavior that only the mother can do for her baby, creating a unique and powerful physical and emotional connection.”
Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at 264-4029 or firstname.lastname@example.org.