Experts have been vocal about the benefits of breastfeeding for decades now, citing everything from helping mums bond with their babies to protecting newborns from illness and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS).
And now another advantage has been discovered: nursing a child for the first six months of their life protects the mother from heart disease for at least three years.
The discovery, made by Adelaide University in South Australia, was made after conducting research on 160 breastfeeding mothers. The study carried out a follow-up health check for mothers after the delivery of their babies and found that women who breastfed for at least six months had significantly lower body mass index (BMI), lower blood pressure, mean arterial pressure and lower central blood pressure than those who did not.
The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends breastfeeding your baby exclusively for the first six months of their life to achieve optimal growth and development. The organisation also advises to continue for up to two years or beyond. But that's a lot to take on - and not possible for many women due to work and other commitments.
Breastfeeding also simply doesn't work out for every mother and child. Additionally, some women decide they would rather proceed with formula from birth or offer a combination. But, if it is something you are keen to explore, understanding the benefits may help you persevere should times get tough.
Breastfeeding benefits for mums
1. Reduces risks of breast and ovarian cancer, and type II diabetes
Breastfeeding provides long-term health benefits for breastfeeding mothers. According to WHO breastfeeding reduces the risks of breast and ovarian cancer, type II diabetes.
Breast and ovarian cancer, and type II diabetes are less common among women who breastfeed. The longer time spent breastfeeding links to the lower chances of developing some of these health complications.
2. Can help you bond with your baby
The NHS states that breastfeeding is a great way to connect with your baby to build a strong emotional bond.
3. Can improve postnatal recovery
According to a BBC report, breastfeeding is likely to speed up postpartum recovery by promoting the release of the oxytocin hormone, which reduces blood loss after delivery to return the uterus to its pre-pregnancy form.
4. Can be more convenient and cheaper
Breastfeeding is often a convenient and faster alternative to formula feeding as there's no need to mix formula or prepare bottles. Plus, it's free.
Breastfeeding benefits for babies
1. Has been found to protect babies against common infections and diseases
According to WHO, breast milk is proven to contain antibodies, known to protect children against common childhood illnesses such as diarrhoea and pneumonia. Breastfed babies are also less likely to develop type II diabetes later in life.
2. Provides key nutrients
Breast milk offers all the key nutrients a child needs for the first six months of their life. It is rich in vitamins and minerals, protein, fats and probiotics which promotes a healthy gut. As your baby gets older, your breast milk adapts to their changing needs.
3. May prevent childhood obesity
Breastfeeding has been found to prevent the risk of developing child obesity. Experts believe that breast milk acts as the first defence against the epidemic of obesity.
4. Could make children smarter
Research found that children who were breastfed are likely to perform better with higher intelligence scores and are less likely to develop behavioural problems as they grow older.