In the UK, 73% of mothers begin breastfeeding however, for many of us the idea of breastfeeding is merely something we could maybe imagine ourselves doing sometime in the distant future. Getting on with our busy lives as students seems to occupy all our thoughts at the minute. But the chance is that a lot of us will go on to have families in the future and will come to make the decision whether or not to breastfeed. The NHS recommends feeding new-borns just breast milk for the first 26 weeks of their lives. Despite this advice, there are lots of myths and a great deal of scare-mongering on the internet about breastfeeding, making it out to be a painful, unnecessary process. However, it is so important to get the message out there that the benefits of breastfeeding, for both mother and baby, hugely outweigh the negatives.
Below, I have outlined some of the great things about breastfeeding to give you food for thought and hopefully help you to make your decision in the future.
Health Benefits for Baby
After speaking to several health professionals including my Mum, a highly experienced Health Visitor, and reading online research, I realised that the health benefits of breastfeeding babies are staggering! Not only can breast milk and breastfeeding reduce the chance of babies developing allergies, infections such as ear infections and gastroenteritis, it can also reduce the risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), childhood leukaemia and type 2 diabetes. Research also shows that breastfeeding can have much more long-term benefits for babies, including reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease in adulthood. It is clear that the formula milk we see in our supermarkets has few or none of the health benefits for babies that breast milk has.
Health Benefits for Mother
Whilst mothers are usually primarily concerned with the welfare of their new-borns, it is still important to realise that breastfeeding has major health benefits for the mother too. Evidence shows that breastfeeding can help lower the risk of women developing cancers such as breast cancer and ovarian cancer. Other health benefits include reducing the chance of developing osteoporosis, cardiovascular disease and obesity. Issues with sleeping also dominate the minds of new mothers – studies reveal that mothers who breastfeed their babies actually spend less time out of bed than mothers who bottle-feed. If that’s not an incentive, I don’t know what is! Not having to spend time boiling water to sterilise feeding equipment before use and even not having to worry about spending money on formula may seem like trivial things to us now, but new parents often find breastfeeding to be a saving grace.
In recent years, health professionals have come to emphasise the absolute importance of skin-to-skin contact between mother and baby from birth. There is a wealth of evidence that demonstrates the positive impact such contact has on attachment between a mother and her baby, which can help shape long-term relationships. Breastfeeding is the most natural way of forming this kind of bond and can help both mother and baby develop a strong emotional connection.
Of course, the longer women breastfeed, the more benefits they will reap and the stronger the attachment between them and their baby will be. In terms of the myths you quite often hear about breastfeeding being painful, it is more often than not because the baby is not able to latch on properly in the position they are being held in. Additionally, small or inverted nipples are not reasons to reject breastfeeding as babies can still suckle on the breast– after all, as the NHS advice page points out, it is called breastfeeding.
There are some women who are unable to breastfeed due to plastic surgery procedures or mastectomies, however these women are the minority. If you are unsure about your own ability to breastfeed then there is a huge network of health professionals who can give you the advice you need: your named health visitor, midwife, GP, peer supporter or paediatrician. At the end of the day it is all about personal choice and whatever decision you make, make sure you’ve received expert advice first and then follow it up with advice about bottle-feeding if that’s the path you’ve decided to take.
I think it is really important to get this message to women our own age now, so that we can make informed decisions in the future. For more information and some more myth-busting facts, please follow the link below to the NHS advice page.