Many studies show that pregnancy and especially breastfeeding reduces your chances of breast cancer. What may surprise many people is that our breast development does not end at puberty. We see fatty tissue laid down in the breast during the teen years, but the actual maturity of the breast glands themselves does not happen until the breast goes through a pregnancy and lactates. Breast cancer is a use-it-or-lose-it type of disease with women who have never been pregnant at greatest risk, and the effect cumulative. This means that for every month you breastfeed your chance of breast cancer goes down. This is not only true for breast cancer, but all reproductive cancers, like ovarian and uterine cancer, too. (Breastfeeding also reduces breast cancer in your daughters, but remember we're just talking about moms here.) On top of all that, if you do end up getting breast cancer breastfeeding is associated with living longer!
Women who breastfeed in a biologically normal way will have a delay in their fertility that rivals birth control pills. It's called the Lactation Amenorrhea Method, and is very effective for the first 6 months after having a baby. Once the baby starts eating solid foods around 6 months breastfeeding is less effective, so another form of birth control can be used if desired, but often ovulation does not return until a year or more after birth. This delay is more effective the more the baby is getting nourishment and meeting other needs at the breast. For some women, this is so effective they will have to wean their babies in order to start cycling again if they wish to get pregnant. This delay in fertility is a free and easy method that's free of side effects that are present with all hormonal forms of birth control.
As we get older the chance we'll develop diabetes goes up, but breastfeeding can help reduce that. If you had diabetes before becoming pregnant breastfeeding will help your blood sugar levels so that you need less insulin. Metformin, a common diabetes medication, has been shown to be safe for breastfeeding babies. Especially after a gestational diabetes diagnosis women are advised to breastfeed so they will be less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. They are especially at risk for this metabolic problem, but others can develop type II diabetes, and breastfeeding lowers the risk for everyone. Since sometimes diabetes can be associated with difficulty breastfeeding, make sure you get help with breastfeeding if you need it.
Less postpartum depression
Let's face it: mothering in the first weeks and months is really hard. Sleep deprivation, a lack of support, and hormonal shifts can contribute greatly to postpartum mood disorders. It might seem like an easy solution for mothers to try and lighten her load by switching to artificial milk, which someone else can feed to the baby in a bottle. The problem is that the hormones released when a mother breastfeeds actually lessens her negative feelings and helps to calm her. When a mother weans her baby, especially abruptly, the depression or anxiety can get worse because of the hormone changes and less connection to her baby.
Ease of feeding
Sometimes the reason for giving artificial milks is that is seems easier than breastfeeding. No doubt, in some situations breastfeeding is quite a struggle. However, many breastfeeding difficulties can be overcome with some lactation support, education, and time. In the long run, for most women, breastfeeding after the first few weeks becomes quite time-saving. No mixing, washing bottles, remembering to put it in the diaper bag, or worries about contamination. It's always the right temperature, immediately available, safe, and free!
Studies have shown us something somewhat counterintuitive: that breastfeeding mothers actually get more sleep than their artificially-feeding peers, one study finding an average of 40 minutes more at three months. One of the lines you hear from companies making artificial milks is how the partner can now wake up and give the baby a bottle while mom sleeps. In real life however, our partners are often working and the brunt of childcare falls on mom, no matter how she's feeding the baby. Yes, breastfeeding moms will be tired some days, but the thing to remember is that giving a bottle will not solve that. One explanation for this is the ease of breastfeeding without having to fully wake to prepare a bottle, and the other is the hormones released in both mom and baby that makes them both sleepy afterwards.
There are many other ways in which breastfeeding benefits mothers, like reductions in heart disease, osteoporosis, lower cost, decreased postpartum bleeding, helps her lose weight, and helps boost self-confidence in parenting. So you see, it's not only baby who needs breastmilk. Mothers deserve to know how good it is for their own physical and mental health, too.