There are countless reasons that families choose to breastfeed during infancy. In most cases, however, the primary reasons include some combination of bonding and immune benefits. After all, breastfeeding provides infants and their mothers with a valuable closeness, releasing hormones like oxytocin that contribute to feelings of attachment, but also pass on critical antibodies that can protect babies from serious illness before they are vaccinated.
As important as these benefits are, though, breastfeeding provides longer-term advantages, as well.
Many parents worry about managing their children’s weight, not because their children currently have a weight problem, but because adolescent and adult obesity are such serious health problems and childhood obesity is on the rise. This problem only got worse during the pandemic as low-income children lost access to nutritious school lunches, and children stayed inside more. But how does breastfeeding help with weight control?
Though the exact mechanism behind why breastfeeding reduces the long-term likelihood of obesity, some theorize that infants who breastfeed are more likely to learn to eat intuitively, reducing overeating later in life. They may also have a healthier gut microbiome, which can also help with weight control.
Cognitive And Speech Development
While there are many similarities between nursing and bottle feeding, infants who are exclusively or primarily breastfed do rely on slightly different, more complex coordination in order to latch on to the nipple. This is why we hear about latching issues in breastfed infants, but rarely hear about this in bottle-fed infants, who can simply use a different nipple style.
As a result of using these muscle groups from birth onward, breastfed children can see improved oral-motor development. This, along with the improved cognitive function that can stem from the close physical and emotional bond attached to the act, can reduce the likelihood that your child will need speech or occupational therapy for oral-motor development.
Double The Diabetes Benefits
Along with weight control, as mentioned above, breastfeeding can make it less likely that your child will develop Type 1 diabetes – but that’s not all. Breastfeeding not only protects your baby from Type 1 diabetes, but it can also lower the mother’s risk of developing Type 2 diabetes. If you have a family history of Type 2 diabetes, which has a stronger genetic component than Type 1, this might be an added reason to breastfeed.
Anyone who has ever had a child or spent time around them knows that little kids are constantly sniffling or coughing. Because their immune systems are still developing, small children tend to pass around a variety of viruses and bacteria in daycare and school programs. Often, these are a minor hiccup in an otherwise uneventful childhood, but sometimes they can turn serious – and breastfeeding can help reduce the number and severity of infections.
In particular, breastfeeding can reduce the number of colds and respiratory infections, especially RSV and other severe lower respiratory issues, as well as minimize the number and severity of ear infections. This can also reduce the likelihood of childhood hearing loss caused by infections, and minimize the need for ear tube placement, which is frequently performed for children with persistent ear infections.
Breastfeeding offers a long list of benefits, from short-term concerns of infancy, like reducing the risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome, to lifelong benefits like weight control. Even breastfeeding for a shorter period of time than the recommended year or not breastfeeding exclusively can have meaningful advantages. Can you make this a priority for your infant – and for yourself?