Whether you are in the middle of breastfeeding your baby, look forward to it as a future goal, or are looking back on your breastfeeding experiences, it’s nice to remember (or realize!) that in addition to many benefits for your baby, breastfeeding comes with many benefits for you as well. Here are just a few of the benefits of breastfeeding for moms (and yes, you get these benefits from pumping too!):
Easier postpartum healing. Whether you labored and birthed at a hospital, at home, had a vaginal birth, or a cesarean, oxytocin (and possibly its synthetic counterpart, known in the US as Pitocin) played a large role in the uterine contractions that brought your baby (and placenta!) into the world. Oxytocin also supports the letdown of milk and our bodies secrete this hormone when we are relaxed or experiencing pleasure, closeness, or love. In addition to helping your milk flow, the oxytocin you’ll create while breastfeeding also speeds your postpartum recovery, helping to lessen bleeding and shrink your uterus back down to non-pregnant size (also known as uterine involution).
Bonding with baby. In addition to helping your uterus contract and go back to where it needs to be postpartum, oxytocin can also help you bond with your baby. Breastfeeding is a great way to facilitate bonding, but there are many other ways to get this oxytocin rush and closeness with your baby, even if you aren’t breastfeeding. Studies have shown that all parents—fathers as well as mothers—show increased oxytocin when interacting with and parenting their new infant.
Later return of menstruation. Many women feel that a break from periods is a benefit of breastfeeding. Often, breastfeeding moms don’t begin menstruating again until between 9-18 months after giving birth. This time without a menstrual cycle is known as lactational amenorrhea.
Immediate mental health benefits. Breastfeeding moms have a lower risk of postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. A reciprocal relationship between breastfeeding and postpartum depression (PPD) has been observed, meaning that breastfeeding may decrease risk of PPD, and also that PPD may decrease the rate of breastfeeding.
Lifetime health benefits. Breastfeeding, at all or for an extended amount of time, has a variety of health benefits that last over a mother’s lifetime, including decreased risk of breast and cervical cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, endometriosis, osteoporosis, and cardiovascular disease. A 2002 study by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer showed that the relative risk of breast cancer decreased by 4.3% for every 12 months of breastfeeding. Additionally, a 2013 study done in southern China found that prolonged lactation is associated with a lower risk of ovarian cancer.
There are a variety of benefits of breastfeeding for moms who choose to do so, whether for days or years. Some of the benefits are present no matter the duration of breastfeeding, and others increase the more time you spend breastfeeding (or pumping for) your baby.