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UPMC nurse: Breastfeeding provides health protection for mom and baby

Breastfeeding is often thought of as a gift between mother and baby. Not only does it provide bonding time, but the health benefits for both baby and mom are undeniable.

Breastfeeding gives your baby all the nutrition and disease protection needed for normal growth and lifelong disease protection.

August is National Breastfeeding Month, a month dedicated to educating women and families on the importance of breastfeeding. You may think breastfeeding comes naturally, but it can take more training than many people realize.

While it can be challenging, the benefits of breastfeeding far outweigh the trials and they don’t stop after a few months.

In fact, studies show that if you continue breastfeeding through your baby’s second birthday, you and your baby can reap more rewards.

How Mom Benefits from Breastfeeding

Moms who breastfeed get both short and long-term benefits. The most immediate benefit is the bond shared with your newborn. The eye contact and skin-to-skin touch you experience during feeding time can create a lasting bond. Other health benefits you experience at the beginning of breastfeeding, include:

• Your uterus will shrink to pre-pregnancy size more quickly because of the hormones you release during breastfeeding.

• Breastfeeding burns calories, so combined with a healthy diet and appropriate level of activity, you can lose pregnancy weight faster.

• Time and money are saved because you don’t clean bottles, measure formula, and warm bottles.

• Less stress due to hormones released during breastfeeding.

Moms also see long-term health benefits from breastfeeding:

• Women who breastfeed have decreased rates of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes, osteoporosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and depression.

• Studies also show women with gestational diabetes who breastfeed for more than a year over their lifetime, reduced the risk of type 2 diabetes compared to those who didn’t breastfeed.

How Your Baby Benefits from Breastfeeding

Many of the benefits for your baby come directly from your breast milk. Your breast milk will even change according to the baby’s needs, especially in the first month. Breastmilk, with its factors that decrease infections and inflammation, is especially important to prevent and decrease infections in infants.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the healthy benefits your baby will experience because of breastfeeding, include:

• Fewer ear infections, respiratory infections, gastrointestinal diseases, colds, and flu. The proteins found in breast milk also fight bacteria.

• Healthy growth and development. The proteins and fats in breast milk help meet the growth needs of babies, especially premature babies.

• Better digestion throughout the baby’s life. Breast milk contains helpful bacteria that benefit the baby’s immune system and metabolism.

• Protection against a variety of diseases and conditions, including asthma, diabetes, and childhood obesity.

• While there have been no studies documenting the safety of vaccinating breastfeeding or lactating individuals against COVID-19, there is a low likelihood that there would be adverse events.

In addition, there are reasons to suspect that the antibodies generated from the vaccine against COVID-19 will cross to the baby in breast milk. Therefore, breastfeeding and lactating individuals should not be discouraged from getting the vaccine, and once vaccinated there is no reason to stop or withhold breastfeeding.

Every child’s breastfeeding journey is different, and support is needed not only from health professionals, but also family, friends, employers and the community.

It may be challenging, and time and energy can be an investment to work through those challenges.

As a new or experienced mom, you may have many questions related to breastfeeding and it’s important that you talk to your provider. They can connect you with resources before or after baby is born.

Additionally, lactation experts are available to mothers at all UPMC labor and delivery hospitals. These services are offered in-person, by phone consultations, or through a virtual appointment.

Natalie McCullen, RN, BSN, IBCLC, is a lactation consultant with The Birthplace at UPMC Magee-Womens in north central Pa. She is certified by the International Board of Lactation Consultant Examiners and specializes in the clinical management of breastfeeding. To schedule an appointment, call 570-321-2092.

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