The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends babies be exclusively breastfed for the first six months of life, with an additional six months of breastfeeding while other age-appropriate foods are introduced. That’s because breast milk is indisputably the best delivery system for the nutrients infants need to grow and thrive.
Of course, you want the best for your baby, but you also want the best for yourself. It turns out the benefits of breastfeeding are a two-way street. When you breastfeed, you:
1. Reduce your risk factors for cardiovascular disease. A 2009 study of more than 139,000 postmenopausal women found the longer a woman breastfed, the less likely she was to have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, Type 2 diabetes and heart disease—the leading cause of death among U.S. women. Women who tallied more than 12 months of breastfeeding during their lifetimes experienced the most benefit.
2. Lower your risk of cancer. According to the Office on Women’s Health, women who breastfeed have a lower risk of developing ovarian and certain types of breast cancer. Studies suggest every 12 months of breastfeeding lowers a woman’s breast cancer risk by 4.3 percent.
3. Lose pregnancy weight more easily. Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh determined that women who don’t breastfeed carry an additional 7.5 centimeters of fat around their waists compared to nursing women. Much of this is visceral fat, which a woman’s body stores up during pregnancy in preparation for nursing. Breastfeeding mobilizes this fat, helping you shed that unwanted post-pregnancy weight by burning 300–500 calories per day.
4. Recover from childbirth more quickly. Breastfeeding releases hormones in your body that help shrink your uterus and minimize postpartum bleeding.
5. Establish an emotional bond with your baby. This is an obvious one, but breastfeeding cultivates that all-important mother-baby bond that some moms-to-be fear they won’t experience. It’s no wonder a 2012 study found nursing mothers had lower rates of postpartum depression.
6. Boost your body’s own contraceptive capability. As long as your menstrual cycle doesn’t resume, daily and nightly breastfeeding helps protect against conception naturally. For the health of the mother, many experts recommend having children no less than two years apart.
7. Save a whole lot of money. Infant formula can cost up to $10 per day, or $3,650 per year.