In recognition of National Breastfeeding Month, we're sharing several important health benefits of breastfeeding for mothers. Most Americans are aware of the benefits breastfeeding brings to children, including a decreased risk of ear infections, respiratory illnesses and childhood obesity. Often overlooked, however, are the benefits that breastfeeding offers mothers. The health benefits for women include lowering the risk of breast cancer by up to 20 percent; limiting the risk of ovarian cancer and Type 2 diabetes; reducing the risk of postpartum depression and also promoting a healthy lifestyle for the mother. There are also the everyday benefits, like stress reduction and bonding with your child, which can have tremendous impact to overall health.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends breastfeeding for at least 12 months, so both mom and infant can gain the full benefits. Here are the top six benefits of breastfeeding for mothers:
Lowers Risk of Breast Cancer
Breastfeeding gives beneficial strains of bacteria to our babies, but women also receive the benefit of good bacteria passing through their breast ductal passages, which can help reduce the risk of cancer. While producing milk, structural changes in breast tissue limit breast cells' ability to misbehave, therefore limiting the risk of breast cancer. As an added benefit, lactation suppresses the amount of estrogen your body produces. High levels of estrogen can put you at a higher risk for breast cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, high levels of estrogen over a long period of time can also cause endometrial cancer. New mothers who are breastfeeding and are highly receptive to a healthy diet are improving their own health and well-being by simply feeding their child.
You are probably aware that short-term and long-term stress can affect your body. Stress has many adverse effects, including frequent illness, trouble sleeping, stomach problems, headaches and mental health issues. But, breastfeeding can help mothers relax and handle stress better. Skin-to-skin contact with their baby has a soothing effect.
Lowers Risk of Postpartum Depression (PPD)
Postpartum depression can't be traced to a single source and is caused by a combination of hormonal, biochemical, environmental, psychological and genetic factors that leave new mothers feeling blue. Current research indicates that one of the strongest predictors of PPD is depression or anxiety during pregnancy. The good news is that nursing triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. Numerous studies have found that oxytocin promotes nurturing and relaxation, therefore combating feelings of depression.
Reduces Risk of Type 2 Diabetes
About five to nine percent of pregnant women nationwide develop high blood sugar levels even though they didn't have diabetes before pregnancy. This condition, called gestational diabetes, drastically raises a woman's risk for Type 2 diabetes later in life. But, by increasing insulin sensitivity, breastfeeding improves glucose metabolism. Nursing for longer than two months lowered the risk of Type 2 diabetes by almost half, and breastfeeding beyond five months lowered the risk by more than one half.
Lowers Risk of Ovarian Cancer
A recent study has found that women who breastfed for more than 13 months were 63 percent less likely to develop an ovarian tumor than women who breastfed for less than seven months. Nursing delays ovulation and researchers believe that the more ovulations occur, the greater the risk of cell mutation, which can increase the risk of ovarian cancer.
While many barriers to breastfeeding still exist, and new mothers are faced with more rigorous discipline—whether with diet, abstaining from cigarette and alcohol use, or creating appropriate feeding and pumping schedules—overall breastfeeding promotes healthier living.
By eating healthy foods and getting exercise, mothers are sure to have the energy that is needed. It is also key to drink plenty of fluids to stay hydrated. A common suggestion is to drink a glass of water every time you breastfeed. In addition to healthy food choices, some breastfeeding women may need a multivitamin and mineral supplement. We suggest speaking with your doctor to find out if you need a supplement.
ACCESS understands these challenges and recognizes that breastfeeding can be difficult for some women. That is why we offer support for women who want to breastfeed but who are struggling. Through our integrated care team, we link new moms with valuable programs such as ACCESS' Westside Healthy Start, CenteringPregnancy®, and our family case management services.
In addition, ACCESS' Male Involvement program works with Healthy Start participants to engage their male partners in their health and the health of their children. The program teaches critical parenting and life skills, makes connections to health services and provides job training. Combined, these areas are key to sustaining a healthy family.
ACCESS encourages patients to speak with a Certified Lactation Consultant to learn basic breastfeeding techniques and discuss concerns. Patients also can speak with their provider for information involving medical-related issues with breastfeeding.