A Surprising Benefit of Breastfeeding — for Moms


I spent more than the last few months of my breastfeeding journey fighting to not stop nursing my son even though he was more than a year old. It had taken a toll on me physically. I had to go on an elimination diet to find the source of my son’s colic, reflux, and allergies. He nursed constantly, and I lost way too much weight. I was constantly drained; what little energy I had left after tending to a sleepless newborn was sapped right out of me, as if breastfeeding was a direct line to my energy reserves.

My family had been more than concerned over the course of the breastfeeding experience, but I fought them tooth and nail. I was entirely convinced that continuing to breastfeed was the best thing for my son and it was worth the temporary difficulties. The World Health Organization recommends breastfeeding until the age of two and beyond, and with good reason: Breastfeeding can help decrease childhood obesity rates, boost the immune system, improve intelligence, and prevent diseases such as type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Aside from the many health benefits, breastfeeding encourages a bond between mom and baby and provides a source of comfort for babies. Dr. Sears promotes the many benefits of breastfeeding, stating it improves babies’ vision, hearing, intelligence, digestion, and even behavior.

I knew breastfeeding could provide benefits to my child; I never knew it could provide as many benefits to the mother, too. (Well, beyond burning extra calories and sending a rush of much-needed happy hormones to my head with each nursing session.) It turns out, breastfeeding can also decrease the mother’s risk of ovarian, uterine, and breast cancers. Most recently, it was found that breastfeeding can improve a mother’s heart health, which is important considering heart disease is a top killer of women. This particular study showed that the longer women breastfed, the more they decreased their risk for heart disease. It also showed that women who breastfed for seven to twelve months decreased their cholesterol levels and risk of hypertension and type 2 diabetes. (So kind of like an added bonus freebie in health-land.)

According to the study’s author, Elanor Bimla Schwarz, “14,000 American women could avoid having a heart attack each year if 90 percent of women breastfed for 9 months.” This isn’t meant to add fuel to the breast-or-not fire; it’s simply a different perspective on potential benefits, this time looking at mom instead of baby.

So while breastfeeding — like everything else in parenting — has its ups and downs, this is just one more reason why it was worth the fight for me.

Photo courtesy of Thinkstock

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