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Maternal Advantages of Breastfeeding

In addition to the many infant health benefits just cited, breastfeeding clearly is advantageous to a mother's well-being. Consider the following:

Breastfeeding causes release of the hormone oxytocin, which helps shrink your uterus back to its normal size after delivery.
When this hormone is at work during the first few days of breastfeeding, you might notice some contractions of your ute-rus while nursing. These afterpains, as they are called, are more pronounced among women who have delivered more than one baby. While oxytocin's effect on the uterus can produce temporary discomfort, it also can be lifesaving for some women in settings where access to medical care is limited. By putting the baby to the breast immediately after birth, postpartum bleeding can be reduced. In the United States, it is customary to give an intravenous injection of synthetic oxytocin after delivery to help control uterine bleeding. Before the advent of modern technology, routine breastfeeding after birth offered the best protection against postpartum hemorrhage.

Breastfeeding utilizes additional calories, which helps mothers lose some of the extra fat they accumulated during pregnancy.
It is nature's plan for pregnant women to store fat reserves to be used to subsidize lactation. That's why the combined weight of the baby, placenta, amniotic fluid, and blood lost at deliv-ery doesn't add up to the total weight gained during pregnancy. After the first month, many breastfeeding women find they lose about two pounds a month while lactating, and they can expect to return to their prepregnancy weight sooner than bottle-feeding women. A recent study showed significantly greater weight loss in breastfeeding than formula-feeding women, primarily between three and six months postpartum.

Breastfeeding provides maternal protection against osteoporosis and hip fracture in later life.
Osteoporosis is an age-related bone loss that leads to brittle bones and fractures of the hip, wrist, spine, and elsewhere. This crippling bone disease affects approximately one in three women over sixty years of age. Studies of postmenopausal women have shown higher bone mineral densities in those who have breastfed. A recent study of Australian women over sixty-five years found that having breastfed offered a protective effect on the risk of hip fracture in old age.

Women who have breastfed have a slightly reduced risk of premenopausal breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Approximately one in nine women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime. Many of the established risk factors for breast cancer are beyond our control, such as age at first menstruation, age at menopause, family history of breast cancer, and age at birth of first child. However, breastfeeding is one factor within a woman's control that can reduce her breast cancer risk. A number of studies have shown a significant protective effect of breastfeeding against premenopausal breast cancer. In general, the effect increases with the cumulative months of lifetime breastfeeding. It is estimated that if all women who gave birth were to achieve a combined breastfeeding duration among their children totaling twenty-four months or longer, the national incidence of premenopausal breast cancer might be reduced by nearly 25 percent. A recent study suggests that being breastfed herself is a possible factor that lowers a woman's risk of breast cancer.

Several studies also have shown a protective effect of lactation against ovarian cancer. One of the most important of these studies found a 20 to 25 percent reduction in risk of ovarian cancer for women who breastfed at least two months.

Breastfeeding is very convenient because no matter where you are, you always have the perfect food ready for your infant, at the right temperature, and in the correct amount.
When you breastfeed, you can conveniently take your infant with you anywhere, knowing your milk will be ready for her whenever she is hungry. Despite power outages, snow storms, or natural disasters, the breastfeeding mother can feed her hungry baby, in the absence of electricity or potable water. I often enjoyed the freedom of traveling and camping with a nursing baby, without being bogged down by formula preparation.

Breastfeeding in the middle of the night is much more convenient than going to the kitchen to mix and warm a bottle of formula. With your newborn in a bassinet at your bedside, you can scoop up your baby when she gets hungry and nurse her without leaving your bed. Some women choose to sleep with their nursing infants in the same bed and scarcely have to disrupt their sleep for feedings.

Before I'm accused of overselling the convenience of breastfeeding, let me acknowledge that the first few weeks with a new baby are a particularly exhausting time. When breastfeeding is just getting launched and feedings seem to preoccupy a great deal of time and everyone is overwhelmed with the demands of a new baby, "convenience" in relation to any aspect of baby care might seem a remote concept. In this article, I offer advice to help you survive the early weeks and get off to a successful start so that you really can enjoy the remarkable convenience of long-term breastfeeding.



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From Dr. Mom's Guide to Breastfeeding by Marianne R. Neifert. Copyright © 1998 by Marianne R. Neifert. Used by arrangement with Plume, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

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