Postpartum weight loss to reducing risk of cancer: Benefits of breastfeeding and problems that every new mother faces
The physical closeness during breastfeeding not only enhances the emotional bond between mother and baby but also comes packed with health benefits.
Bringing a new life into the world is a remarkable journey filled with love, challenges and numerous decisions where one of the earliest and most significant choices new mothers make is to breastfeed their babies. Breastfeeding has been celebrated for its multiple advantages, not only for the baby but also for the mother's health and well-being but while there are some compelling advantages of breastfeeding women, there are also some common challenges they come across throughout this wonderful stage of their lives that expecting mothers should be aware of beforehand.
In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Dr Pranay Shah, Obstetrician and Gynecologist at Bhatia Hospital in Mumbai, shared, “Breastfeeding offers a multitude of benefits for both mothers and their babies, fostering a unique connection and providing essential nutrients. For mothers, breastfeeding provides nourishment and contributes to their overall health. It has been linked to a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancers, offering long-term health advantages. The energy expended in producing milk, estimated at up to 500 calories per day, aids in postpartum weight loss, facilitating a healthier body post-delivery. Moreover, the release of oxytocin during breastfeeding aids in the contraction of the uterus, allowing it to regain its pre-pregnancy size and promoting quicker postpartum recovery. The physical closeness during breastfeeding enhances the emotional bond between mother and baby, facilitated by skin-to-skin contact, fostering a sense of security and love.”
He added, “Equally significant are the benefits conferred upon babies by breastfeeding. Breast milk contains preformed antibodies that bolster their immune systems, fortifying them against infections and illnesses. The natural composition of breast milk supports steady weight gain, ensuring optimal growth and development. Its easy digestibility lessens the likelihood of stomach discomfort and irritations, contributing to a content and comfortable baby. Skin-to-skin contact releases oxytocin, a hormone that induces a sense of calm and security in babies, promoting their emotional well-being.”
Dr Pilli Govardan from the department of Paediatrics and Neonatology at MGM Healthcare, elaborated:
1. Reducing the Risk of Breast and Ovarian Cancer - Breastfeeding doesn't just nourish the baby it also offers a layer of protection to the mother as well. Lactation consultants has said that women who breastfeed are at a reduced risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. The act of breastfeeding helps the body shed breast tissue early, which will be a key factor in lowering the risk of abnormal cell growth that can lead to cancer.
2. Oxytocin Production and Uterus Contraction - Oxytocin, often referred to as the "love hormone," plays a crucial role during childbirth and breastfeeding. When a mother breastfeeds, her body releases oxytocin, which serves two important purposes. Firstly, it promotes the bonding between mother and baby, fostering a strong emotional connection. Secondly, oxytocin aids in uterine contractions, assisting the uterus in returning to its pre-pregnancy size. This natural process supports the mother's postpartum recovery and overall well-being.
3. Utilising Calories and Fat Stores - The journey of motherhood is accompanied by physical changes, including weight gain during pregnancy. Breastfeeding can be a helpful tool in shedding those extra pounds. When a mother breastfeeds, her body expends additional energy and calories to produce milk. This natural calorie-burning process can aid in weight loss and help mothers achieve their pre-pregnancy shape. Additionally, the body uses stored fat to produce breast milk, contributing to both the baby's nutrition and the mother's body goals.
4. Emotional Well-being and Reduced Depression Risk - The postpartum period will be emotionally challenging for new mothers as they adjust to the demands of caring for a newborn. Breastfeeding, however, offers more than just physical benefits. Mothers who breastfeed often experience a boost in their emotional well-being. The release of oxytocin during breastfeeding contributes to feelings of happiness and relaxation. Also, breastfeeding mothers have been found to have a lower risk of postpartum depression, possibly due to the hormonal changes associated with breastfeeding.
5. Natural Birth Control - Exclusive breastfeeding can suppress ovulation and prevent the return of menstrual cycles for the first few months after childbirth. This can serve as a form of natural birth control during this period.
Challenges Faced by New Mothers:
Asserting that it is important to dispel the myth that breastfeeding is always effortless, Dr Pranay Shah said, “It presents challenges requiring both mother and baby's time, patience, and practice. Ensuring a proper latch is essential to prevent discomfort for the mother and to enable efficient milk transfer. Concerns about inadequate milk supply or production can be distressing and might necessitate additional support. Engorgement, a common occurrence when the breasts become overly full, can cause pain and discomfort. Nipple soreness or cracking can also occur, requiring attentive care and adjustments in feeding technique. Leaking breasts, while a sign of abundant milk supply, can be inconvenient and necessitate nursing pads.”
According to Dr Pilli Govardan, while the benefits of breastfeeding are numerous, it's important to acknowledge that the journey may not always be smooth sailing. New mothers often encounter challenges that can affect their breastfeeding experience. Some common problems include:
1. Latch Difficulties - Establishing a proper latch can be challenging for both the mother and the baby, leading to discomfort and ineffective feeding.
2. Low Milk Supply - Some mothers may worry about not producing enough milk to satisfy their baby's needs, leading to stress and anxiety.
3. Sore Nipples - Soreness and cracked nipples can make breastfeeding painful and uncomfortable.
4. Engorgement - The breasts can become overly full and painful due to engorgement, making it difficult for the baby to latch.
5. Time and Privacy - Breastfeeding requires time and privacy, which can be difficult to find in busy schedules or public places.
Breastfeeding is a remarkable journey that offers a plethora of benefits for both mothers and babies where from reducing the risk of cancer to promoting emotional well-being, breastfeeding plays a pivotal role in the postpartum experience. However, it's important to recognise that challenges can arise and seek support from the lactation consultants, their partners and their family members as this can greatly enhance the breastfeeding journey for new mothers who navigate the joys and obstacles of breastfeeding while creating a unique and precious bond with their babies that will be cherished for a lifetime.