Breastmilk is the most nutritious source of food for your baby, but breastfeeding also has real benefits for moms. You might know that when you breastfeed, it causes your body to release oxytocin, a calming chemical sometimes referred to as the “love hormone,” and it helps your uterus to contract back to its regular size. But there are a lot of other lesser-known benefits that could improve your health in the long and short term.
If you’ve had a C-section, research suggests that breastfeeding could help you deal with the pain while you’re recovering. A 2017 study found that moms who breastfed for two months or more after a Caesarean section were three times less likely to experience persistent pain at the site of their incision.
Postpartum depression (PPD) affects 10 to 15 percent of new moms in Canada, bringing feelings of sadness, fatigue, loss of appetite, difficulty sleeping and trouble bonding with their babies. But some research shows that breastfeeding can reduce a woman’s risk for PPD. One 2012 study in the International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine found that women who breastfed for the first four months of their babies' lives had a reduced risk of developing PPD. Of course, for women who are suffering from PPD, breastfeeding can be a much more challenging task.
When you’re breastfeeding, your hormones are altered—that's why so many women enjoy several period-free months after pregnancy. But there’s an even bigger benefit to the hormonal changeup: a decreased risk of cancer. Research shows that breastfeeding—particularly breastfeeding for more than a year—can reduce breast cancer risk, and the longer you breastfeed, the lower your risk for ovarian cancer.
Breastfeeding is good for the heart—and we don’t just mean that feel-good connection it creates with you and your baby. When Danish and US researchers looked at the connection between breastfeeding and heart health in 2018, they found that women who breastfed for at least four months had 20 to 30 percent lower risks for hypertension and heart disease. And both exclusive breastfeeding and part-time breastfeeding had benefits, no matter the mother’s weight.
Type 2 diabetes is on the rise, but breastfeeding can have a protective effect against the disease. According to a 30-year study published in JAMA International Medicine, women who breastfeed for six months or more cut their risk of developing type 2 diabetes in half during their childbearing years. The effect was even present for women who had suffered from gestational diabetes. Researchers suspect that the effect may be due to lactation hormones interacting with the pancreatic cells that control insulin.
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. Canada has one of the highest rates of MS in the world, but breastfeeding could have a protective affect against this sometimes debilitating disease. The American Academy of Neurology has found that mothers who breastfeed for at least 15 months (over one or more pregnancies) are 53 percent less likely to develop MS.
Seeing all the health benefits that come from breastfeeding, a group of US-based researchers decided to measure how many lives could actually be saved by women breastfeeding longer. Their 2016 study, which was published in Maternal and Child Nutrition, found that, for every 597 women who breastfeed for six months exclusively and at least a year in total, one death is prevented. The major causes of death in women who didn’t breastfeed for long? Heart attacks, breast cancer and diabetes.