New benefits of breastfeeding—for mom
It has long been accepted that breastfeeding is good for babies, but the health benefits for mothers just keep on coming.
Past research [pdf] showed that breastfeeding helps prevent breast cancer, especially for mothers who maintain the practice past the first year. It also decreases the risk for ovarian cancer and type-2 diabetes.
Now a new study, published last August in Obstetrics & Gynecology, shows breastfeeding also helps women’s hearts.
Researchers recorded the pre-pregnancy cardiovascular risk of 846 women in 1985. Twenty years later, they measured the thickness of the women’s carotid arteries. (The thicker the arteries, the greater the risk for heart disease.)
They discovered that women who breastfed the least had thicker carotid arteries.
Pregnancy makes the cardiovascular system work harder, but the researchers showed that breastfeeding helps restore the mothers’ physiological systems to their pre-pregnancy state.
Heather Lakatos, an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant at Cape Cod Hospital, says breastfeeding also restores other parts of a mother’s body back to normal faster as well.
“The hormones that are involved with lactation relax mom and help prevent post-partum depression,” she says. “And they also cause the uterus to cramp so it gets back to that pre-pregnancy state faster.”
Plus you typically burn about 600 calories a day breastfeeding, so weight loss is much quicker.”
And breastfeeding saves you money, Lakatos says. One year of infant formula costs about $1,500. Actual costs are closer to $3,000 if you take into account sick time and the cost of doctor visits for formula-fed babies.
“Breastfeeding babies tend to be healthier, which for employed moms is better because they take less sick time overall and that affects our health system in general,” she says.
Breastfeeding helps babies long after they’ve stopped feeding, Lakatos says.
“We know nutritionally there are so many benefits to breastfeeding because it is human milk for a human baby,” Lakatos says. “It’s species-specific. It’s got the right ingredients, basically, but the immunological piece of it is so important. Breast milk is a live fluid so it has all these antibodies and immunological components that really protect the baby the entire time they are breastfeeding and beyond.”
The first feeding coats the inner lining of the gut, which provides lifelong protection against certain gastrointestinal problems. Breast milk also helps to reduce the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, obesity, respiratory illnesses and ear infections.
Lakatos says that the number of women unable to breastfeed is a very small minority and Cape Cod Hospital and Falmouth Hospital offer many support systems to help young mothers be successful.
In the hospital, doctors and nurses have long offered skin-to-skin contact between mothers and babies directly after a non-surgical birth to encourage and promote nursing. Two years ago they began doing the same thing for moms who have caesarian sections.
Lakatos meets with all new mothers before they leave the hospital to talk about the importance of breastfeeding and help them get started. Once at home, moms can call the hospital’s “Lactation Warm Line” (508-862-7266), to ask questions and get advice. The phone line is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 2 p.m.
New mothers can also come back to the hospital as outpatients to work one-on-one with Lakatos, who also leads a weekly breastfeeding support group called “The Breakfast Club,” every Monday from 10 to 11 a.m.
Mothers can drop into the group for free to hear Lakatos talk about different topics, including the developmental stages of their babies. Up to a dozen women attend every week. Hospital childbirth educator Ann McDonald leads a “New Moms” group every Friday from 10 a.m. until noon.
The programs are paying off, Lakatos says. “Our breast feeding rate is about 88 percent this current year,” she says, up from 85 percent last year.