Giving birth to and caring for your baby is one of the most intense experiences you will ever have as a woman. Breastfeeding is one of the best ways to care for your baby while forming a deep attachment between you and your baby.
Breastfeeding has countless benefits for both a mother and her baby. Some of the most commonly mentioned benefits include:
- How breast milk changes to meet a baby's nutritional needs.
- How it provides immune protection to the baby.
- How convenient it is.
- How it can be protective against certain types of cancers and chronic illnesses.
But the list really could go on and on! One benefit that is not highlighted enough is the breastfeeding relationship itself and the positive impact on both of you.
The mother, who immerses herself in her newborn, breastfeeding frequently and without restrictions, quickly learns to read her baby's cues and trust her instincts. She extends the gentle give-and-take, the empathy, and the commitment of breastfeeding into the rest of her mothering. Nursing her baby provides her with a blueprint for sensitive parenting in the years to come.
It is interesting to understand and appreciate the unique characteristics of breastfeeding that go way beyond meeting a baby's nutritional and immunological needs. The breastfeeding relationship offers a powerful comfort source for a mother and her infant while helping to facilitate their bonding and connection. We see evidence in research on adoptive mothers who induce lactation to feed their little ones. For a baby who may have experienced trauma or neglect in their past, breastfeeding can play a unique role in their healing journey as they develop healthy attachment relationships.
Breastfeeding is very calming to babies and is an excellent source of pain relief to them. Suckling and the absorption of fat from a mother's breastmilk help release a hormone that promotes pain relief and a calming state in the infant. This suckling can also divert attention away from external influences, providing a healthy way to distract babies from bumps and bruises that are inevitable as they start cruising on all fours.
Baby's emotional need for love and reassurance is just as strong as her physical need for milk. Whereas most formula-fed babies are soon taught to hold their bottles, the breastfed baby is always held by her mother for feedings. A breastfed baby enjoys not only the comfort of the warm breast, but caressing, rocking, and eye contact before, during, and after feedings. With all her senses, she drinks in her mother's love.
Breastfeeding can also be calming and act to reduce stress in mothers. This is because as a mother breastfeeds, she releases oxytocin. This hormone works on her nervous system to support a state of relaxation.
To conclude, many benefits accompany breastfeeding, but the bond that forms will last a lifetime. It's a psychological closeness that helps show your baby the safety that your arms provide. Breastfeeding encourages understanding, love, protection, and emotional intimacy to help them for years to come.