Potential benefits of breastfeeding, for mom and baby

After nine months of changes and preparation, the miracle of childbirth brings a tiny human life into the world. You’ve probably taken countless classes, read books and listened to advice to help determine how you will nurture and raise your child. Yet, even with all that preparation, it’s challenging. Remember, you’re not alone.

For new and repeating moms, breastfeeding can be a struggle. For women who are able to do so, the process can begin immediately after giving birth. But the duration depends on a number of factors, including what’s best for both mom and baby.

Breastfeeding moms generally understand the benefits nursing has for their baby, like immune protection, growth regulation and lower risk of asthma, diabetes, obesity and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). But many mothers may not know all the benefits their minds and bodies receive in return. When breastfeeding is an option and goes smoothly, there can be both short-term and long-term benefits. 

Short-Term Benefits

  • May improve mood. Breastfeeding may benefit moms’ emotional well-being by naturally producing oxytocin and prolactin hormones, which decreases stress and increases positive feelings. Babies that are breastfed also tend to cry less overall, creating a calmer and more stable environment for the family. 
  • Likely faster weight loss. Breastfeeding may burn an extra 500 calories a day just by building and maintaining a milk supply, promoting faster weight loss and metabolism regulation.  

Long-Term Benefits

  • May reduce risk of chronic conditions, like cardiovascular disease. Pregnancy changes glucose and lipid composition in the body, which is needed to support a growing fetus, but can increase your risk for chronic conditions. Research shows continued breastfeeding tends to reset these levels much more quickly and completely. This may lower your risk for hypertension, diabetes, hyperlipidemia and cardiovascular disease.  
  • Potential reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Studies show that breastfeeding may decrease the risk of reproductive cancers in women. Mothers who took this approach lowered their risk of breast cancer by 4.3 percent for each year of feeding, and those with breast cancer were less likely to have breastfed. Another study found women who breastfed for at least 12 months had a 28 percent lower risk of developing ovarian cancer compared to those who never did.

Even if you have the desire to breastfeed, it’s not always easy. Every child is different and lactation issues or low milk supply can make things challenging. If you are struggling to breastfeed consider the following tips:

  • Ask for help from a maternity nurse or hospital lactation consultant right away. 
  • Nurse the baby from both breasts thoroughly – around 15 to 20 minutes each. 
  • If your baby only nurses from one breast, pump the other to protect your milk. 
  • The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests waiting to introduce a pacifier until breastfeeding is well-established. 
  • If you’re having issues with dryness around the breast, minimize soap and cleansers. If needed, use pure lanolin after each feeding to sooth. 
  • Eat healthy and drink plentiful fluids, because this determines the nutritional value of your breast milk. 
  • If you need additional support after leaving the hospital, seek help from a lactation consultant or your baby’s doctor.

Sign up to get the latest news from the UnitedHealthcare Newsroom