If you choose to breastfeed, your baby will get some pretty awesome benefits. Catherine Smith counts ten things you never knew your boobs could do
1. It's tailor-made
Number one with a bullet has to be the fact that breast milk is tailor-made for your individual baby. Human milk is a live product full of antibodies. When a mother is exposed to an infection, she will start producing antibodies against it, and these will be passed onto her baby through her milk. Basically, it’s more than milk – it’s medicine.
2. It sets them up for life
Breastfeeding your baby doesn't just benefit them now, it will set them up for life. Breastfed babies are less likely to develop heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or become obese as adults. You might struggle to imagine your snuffly little bundle as a fully-grown, hairy man at risk of diabetes, but just rest assured that your milk is giving your baby the best possible start for their lifelong health.
3. It's good for you, too
Breastfeeding lowers your risk of getting ovarian or breast cancer later in life. Doctors aren't yet sure why – it could be down to the fact that the ovaries don’t produce so many eggs for the duration of breastfeeding, or because lactation somehow limits the ability of cells to act abnormally.
4. It's great for bonding...
There are many ways to bond with your baby, but breastfeeding is a major one. All that holding, skin-to-skin snuggling and the satisfaction of holding a blissed-out sleepy bubba with a tummy full of your milk as they snooze in your arms scores high on the best bits of motherhood.
5. ...and for comfort
A lot gets said about ‘comfort feeding’, some of which seems to imply that babies who do it aren’t having a ‘real’ feed. In fact, non-nutritive sucking (as it’s technically known) is a normal part of breastfeeding. Babies will ‘ask’ to feed if they want to calm down, reconnect with mama, warm up, fall asleep, or just because they want to suck.
6. It protects against SIDS
Breastfeeding cuts the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) in half. A 2017 study by the University of Virginia School of Medicine found that exclusive breastfeeding for the first two months of life helped reduce the risk of SIDS by 50%. Even better news – any amount of breastfeeding provided this protection. So even a mixture of formula and breastmilk is good enough – in addition, of course, to the usual sleep safety precautions.
7. It's a food AND a drink
Breast milk has a high water content and is sufficient to keep a baby hydrated. Even in hot weather, exclusively breastfed babies won’t need extra fluids provided they have unlimited access to the breast.
8. Exclusive breastfeeding delays your period
Exclusive breastfeeding (ie. feeding a baby younger than six months on demand, night and day) will delay the return of your period – officially known as delayed lactational amenorrhea. This is technically a form of birth control, though if you aren’t ready for baby number two yet then use an official form of contraception on top. The progesterone-only mini pill is recommended for breastfeeding mums (rather than the combined pill) as it won’t affect your milk supply.
9. What you eat flavours your milk
What you eat goes into your milk and changes its taste, particularly if it’s something pungent like garlic. In theory this could make weaning easier – breastfed babies are accustomed to differences in flavour, whereas formula always tastes the same.
10. It's totally flexible
You don’t have to go all-in – combination feeding (giving bottles of formula or expressed milk for some feeds) is a really workable solution for many mums who want the benefits of breast milk without the full-on commitment of exclusive breastfeeding. As ever, make the choice that’s right for you and your baby.