Breastfeeding, A Gift For You (Not Just Your Baby).

As mothers, we have all heard about the undisputed benefits breastfeeding has for our children. New research continues to provide evidence about the magic of mother’s milk and how it provides our babies with the best start to life. Breastfeeding our precious little ones is like giving a gift that lasts a lifetime. But did you know that when you breastfeed, you are also giving a gift to yourself?

Breastfeeding provides incredible short- and long-term benefits for mums, and here are 10 of them:

1. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin, the ‘feel-good’ hormone: When your baby attaches to your breast and begins to suck, a hormonal response is triggered, and oxytocin is released from the pituitary gland in your brain. Oxytocin, sometimes referred to as the love hormone, lowers stress and anxiety and increases feelings of relaxation and content.

2. Breastfeeding promotes bonding: The wonderful rush of oxytocin stimulated by breastfeeding promotes a special bond between you and your baby. This clever hormone plays an important role in social interaction and is present in all pair bonding. The frequent skin-to-skin contact required for breastfeeding allows you to quickly learn your baby’s cues, fostering your close attachment to your baby and boosting your maternal confidence.

3. Breastfeeding helps your body heal after giving birth: Feeding your baby forces you to physically stop what you are doing and either sit down or lie down to feed your baby. Considering a newborn baby feeds an average of 8-12 times a day for up to an hour at a time, these periods of rest play an important role in postpartum recovery. The hormones released while you feed your baby also stimulate your uterus to shrink back to its pre-pregnancy size.

4. Breastfeeding delays menstruation: Prolactin, the hormone responsible for milk production, prevents ovulation and delays the return of your period. If you are breastfeeding day and night, it can be several months (or even years) before your period returns.

5. Breastfeeding is a natural contraception: The Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM) of birth control prevents you from falling pregnant while breastfeeding. LAM is up to 99.5% effective if you are exclusively breastfeeding, your baby is under 6 months of age, and your period has not yet returned.

6. Breastfeeding burns calories and can help postpartum weight loss: During pregnancy, your body stores extra fat. A significant portion of these fat stores are metabolised during lactation – breastfeeding alone can burn up to 500 calories a day!

7. Breastfeeding is convenient: Your breastmilk is always available, at just the right temperature, and ready for your baby to drink at any time and in any place. There is no need for packing bottle feeding equipment when you leave the house, or worrying about running out of supplies while you are out and about. There is no getting up in the middle of the night to prepare and warm a bottle. With your newborn baby sleeping beside you, you can simply lift them from their bassinet and feed them back to sleep. Speaking of sleep…

8. Breastfeeding mums get more sleep: A 2011 study of involving more than 6,000 mums found that exclusively breastfeeding mothers reported longer periods of sleep than their formula feeding or mixed feeding peers. In the same study, exclusively breastfeeding mothers also reported better functioning during the day. A similar Australian study in 2002 found that in addition to longer periods of sleep, exclusively breastfeeding mother also experienced more periods of deeper sleep than mothers who were formula or mixed feeding their babies. This is thanks to the milk making hormone, prolactin, which is highest at night time - assisting breastfeeding mums to get back to sleep promptly and to reach deeper stages of sleep.

9. Breastfeeding means less cleaning: Bottle feeding involves frequent washing, scrubbing and sterilising of feeding equipment. Breastfeeding therefore equals less time spent cleaning and more time spent…anything but cleaning!

10. Breastfeeding is good for YOUR health: Last but certainly not least, research has shown that breastfeeding is associated with better maternal health. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of heart disease, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, osteoporosis and type II diabetes. Generally speaking, exclusive breastfeeding and longer durations of breastfeeding are associated with better maternal outcomes.

Emily Brittingham is a mother of five beautful young children, including newborn twins. She's an International Board Certified Lactation Consultant with a Bachelor of Science (Health Sciences) degree and owns a private lactation practice in Melbourne