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Benefits of Breastfeeding For You and Your Baby

I AM breastfeeding my growing child...

“... as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby.” says the World Health Organization. Yet I often hear the phrase...” I am still nursing my toddler.” Sounds like an apology to me. Let’s lose the “still”.

Through the years I have heard the labels morph from prolonged breastfeeding (sounds torturous, like prolonged labor), to extended breastfeeding, to sustained, to the currently accepted label... full-term breastfeeding.

Extended breastfeeding as used in literature and research refers to breastfeeding after the age of 12 months. Full-term breastfeeding is now considered the appropriate way to express what I call a breastfeeding relationship continuum... one that’s as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby.

Most of the benefits of breastfeeding are cumulative. The longer you nurse the more profound and long-lasting the benefits for you and your child.

First, about the baby...

Breastfeeding along the continuum reduces the risk of diabetes, certain types of cancer, heart disease, central nervous system degenerative disorders and obesity... for your child’s lifetime. An analysis of 17 studies published in the American Journal of Epidemiology shows that breastfeeding reduces a child's risk of becoming overweight as a teen or adult. The strongest effect is in children who were exclusively breastfed, and the longer the baby was breastfed the stronger the link. Breastfed babies have more leptin in their system, a hormone that researchers believe plays a role in regulating appetite and fat.

Current research on IQ and the impact of breastfeeding shows that the longer the duration along the “breastfeeding continuum,” the higher the IQ score. The brain grows more during the first two years of life than any other time, nearly tripling in size from birth to two years of age. This is a crucial time for brain development and your breastmilk contains omega-3 fatty acids, also known as DHA. DHA ensures that the cells in the brain, eyes, heart and other parts of the nervous system develop and function properly through all stages of life.

Scientists think that immune factors such as secretory IgA – an antibody only available in breast milk- may help prevent allergic reactions to food by providing a layer of protection to a baby's intestinal tract.

Fewer ear infections means better hearing. 

Straighter teeth can be attributed to the natural sucking of a breastfed child. Upset GI tracts can be soothed with breast milk. It’s easier to digest; reducing spit-ups, reflux and constipation.

Your toddler's immune function is improved owing to another immunoglobulin in your breastmilk - IGA - which also coats the lining of the intestines and helps prevent germs from getting through.

Your breast milk is specifically tailored to your baby. Your body responds to external pathogens –viruses and bacteria- and manufactures secretory IgA specific to your illness – to protect your child. Your breastmilk becomes a preventative medicine of sorts.

Remember that your milk is living tissue... a bioactive, dynamic power source for your child.

Now, about you…

It's better for your health. You know that. But here’s some reinforcement.

Continuing to breastfeed reduces the risk of uterine, ovarian, endometrial and breast cancers in your body. Continuing research suggests this decrease is due to the structural changes in breast tissue caused by breastfeeding and the fact that lactation suppresses the amount of estrogen that your body produces. Researchers think the effect on ovarian cancer may be related to estrogen suppression as well.

Breastfeeding women also have a lower incidence of osteoporosis later in life.  Once again, the longer lactation continues, the greater the protection.

I can’t over express the importance of the emotional bonding that takes place during breastfeeding. Breastfeeding triggers the release of the hormone oxytocin. Numerous studies in animals and humans have found that oxytocin promotes nurturing and relaxation... and an increased sense of well-being.

Many of my clients, women who must return to work to support their families, continue to breastfeed as long as is mutually desired by the mother and baby. They might be expressionistas, comfortably expressing their milk away from home. They might be musicians or artists or chefs who are able to take the time away from the studio or kitchen to comfortably put their babies to breast. This time with their children is a natural stress reducer, a relaxant and a bonding experience. These mothers are travelling with their children along the breastfeeding relationship continuum in a win-win situation for both.

Breast milk contains more than 200 known beneficial elements, with more being discovered all the time. Your baby will continue to benefit from the protein, calcium, fat, vitamin A... and from the closeness to you.

It is remarkable that many mothers feel the need to say, “I’m still breastfeeding." It is my hope that this apology becomes unnecessary as more women speak up and stand proud to breastfeed their children as they see fit... In public, in the workplace and in the faces of the naysayers.

“Once your friends and relatives see the benefits of your breastfeeding bond, your growth as a mother and the emotional, intellectual and physical health of your child, they will serve as convincing testimonies to the value of extended breastfeeding. http://www.parenting.com/article/ask-dr-sears-extended-breastfeeding----handling-the-criticism

The breastfeeding benefits deniers need to hear you say “I am breastfeeding my growing child.” There’s no still about it.

Sources:

 http://jaoa.org/article.aspx?articleid=2093315

Perrin MT, Fogleman AD, Newburg DS, Allen JC. A longitudinal study of human milk composition in the second year postpartum: implications for human milk banking. Matern Child Nutr. 2016 Jan 18. doi: 10.1111/mcn.12239.

Paula Zindler

RN IBCLC

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