By Sophie Geoffrion, Nutritionist and Co-Founder of HappyFitness
While not all new mothers can breastfeed and other options exist to feed newborns, exclusively breastfeeding for the first 6 months of a baby’s life is recommended by national and international public health organizations. That’s good timing since breast milk is not only environmentally friendly, free and always served at the right temperature at the right time, most importantly, it contains the ideal composition for the current and future health of newborns, all while providing its share of benefits for the mother. It’s a dream elixir!
For your newborn child, breast milk...
1. Is its favourite health food
Breast milk has the PERFECT nutritional values for babies right out of the womb. It has just the right proportion of sugars, proteins and fats to give your baby the energy it needs and promote its development. Breast milk is even more amazing in that its composition of fatty acids, vitamins and minerals evolves as the baby grows so that the baby’s nutritional needs are always being met. For the first 6 months, the baby doesn't need to ingest anything else*—not even water—in order to be happy and healthy. *To prevent rickets, which is associated with a vitamin D deficiency, Health Canada recommends giving a 400-IU vitamin D supplement to breastfed babies, from birth until they are one year old.
2. Protects the baby from bad guys
Breast milk gives a colossal boost to a baby's brand new immune system. Not only does it contain hormones that help defend against intruders, it is also a cocktail of antibodies and other antimicrobes which help to more effectively fight bacteria, viruses and parasites. The baby's risk of getting infections (gastroenteritis, otitis, colds, etc.) and the severity of symptoms—if unlucky—are reduced. In addition, a breastfed baby will also have additional protection against the appearance of chronic problems later in life, such as obesity, high cholesterol, hypertension, diabetes and asthma.
3. Facilitates digestion
The enzymes provided through breastfeeding help babies break down nutrients so that they are easier to assimilate by the digestive system, which is just getting the hang of things. And that’s not all! Breast milk contains hormones that stimulate the development of a baby's digestive system as well as substances that promote the growth of good bacteria (for example, bifidobacteria) in the intestine, thereby facilitating the development of a healthy intestinal flora.
4. Will make your baby a food lover
Since many flavour molecules permeate the milk during the breast milk production process, the baby also has the good fortune of getting to taste adult food. By consuming a wide variety of foods, the mother slowly gets the baby’s taste buds and sense of smell used to many tastes and aromas. Does this mean your child will be less difficult? Cross your fingers!
For the mother, breast milk...
1. Helps you get your pre-pregnancy body back
While it may not seem like it, producing breast milk requires a lot of energy from the body. The daily expenditure of calories will therefore increase, which makes it easier to lose weight, provided you eat a healthy diet and in moderate quantities. In addition, oxytocin, a lactation hormone, is kind enough to give your uterus a workout by making it contract and go back to a less convex shape. Thanks for the support!
2. Prevents you from getting pregnant again too soon
Thanks to hormonal changes, breastfeeding your baby slows down the reappearance of your menstrual cycle and, consequently, reduces your fertility level. This contraception system is not foolproof, but it helps to space out pregnancies if the baby in question is exclusively breastfed and is under 6 months old. It's exactly what you need in order to catch your breath between each child.
3. Makes Mommy feel pretty zen
Time and time again, under the effect of hormones, new mothers who breastfeed see their stress levels decrease. With all of the life changes that come along with a newborn, you simply can't turn down a precious minute of relaxation.
4. Protects you from a range of conditions
Right after giving birth, the risk of hemorrhaging is reduced in breastfeeding mothers. In addition, as we mentioned earlier, breastfeeding reduces the loss of iron in the blood by delaying the return of your menstrual cycle, so that mothers are less likely to become anaemic. Over the long term, breastfeeding mothers are less at risk of developing women's cancers (breast, ovarian, uterine) and osteoporosis. Great news all around! To conclude, there are many benefits of breastfeeding your child. One of them, and probably the most important, is the sense of tenderness, security and intimacy that is shared between the mother and baby through this pure act of love. In the end, breast milk is the best comfort food you could ever give your newborn.
Sophie Geoffrion and Chloé Rochette, Founders of HappyFitness
Exclusive Breastfeeding, World Health Organization, http://www.who.int/nutrition/topics/exclusive_breastfeeding/en/
Mieux vivre avec notre enfant de la grossesse à deux ans, INSPQ Centre d’expertise et de référence en santé publique, 2016, https://www.inspq.qc.ca/mieux-vivre
L’importance de l’allaitement maternel, Naître et grandir, http://naitreetgrandir.com/fr/etape/0_12_mois/alimentation/fiche.aspx?doc=naitre-grandir-allaitement-maternel-avantage
Nutrition for Healthy Term Infants: Recommendations from Birth to Six Months, Health Canada, http://www.hc-sc.gc.ca/fn-an/nutrition/infant-nourisson/recom/index-eng.php
. Le charme discret de l’intestin, Giulia Enders, Actes Sud, Lonrai, Avril 2015, p. 207. Retrouver son poids après bébé : patience…, Naître et grandir, http://naitreetgrandir.com/blogue/2012/12/13/retrouver-son-poids-apres-laccouchement-patience/