By Mikaela G. Martinez-Bucu, M.D
As we celebrate International World Breastfeeding Week and National Breastfeeding Awareness Month this August, it is important to emphasize the wonders and value of breastfeeding. Many are already aware of the advantages of breastfeeding for babies, but did you know that nursing has a lot of benefits for mothers as well?
Faster postpartum recovery
Nipple stimulation or suckling during breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which signals the breast to release milk. The same hormone also causes the uterus to contract and shrink back to its normal size after delivery. Maintaining a contracted uterus after childbirth is crucial since this prevents postpartum bleeding and its complications.
Improving your overall mood
In the brain, the hormone oxytocin acts on human behavior namely recognition, trust, and relationship strengthening such as mother-infant bonding. It is often coined as the “love hormone,” which is released during breastfeeding and even during cuddle time with your baby.
Reduces the risk for certain types of cancers
Breastfeeding has been studied to reduce breast cancer by 4.7 percent for every 12 months of breastfeeding. In another systematic review of a hundred publications, breast cancer was reduced by 26 percent in women who breastfed for more than 12 months. Breastfeeding also decreases the risk for ovarian and endometrial cancer by 37 percent and 26 percent, respectively.
Decreases the risk for hypertension and diabetes
Nursing can also decrease a woman’s risk for developing hypertension, coronary artery disease, myocardial infarction and Type 2 Diabetes Mellitus. In the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) study of postmenopausal women, a lifetime history of breastfeeding for more than a year was associated with a 12 percent decrease in the risk of hypertension. The same study also reported that women with a single live birth who nursed for seven to 12 months had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease than women who did not breastfeed.
In addition to reducing the risk for cardiovascular diseases, the Nurses’ Health Study reported that each additional year of breastfeeding decreased the risk of type 2 diabetes by 15 percent compared to women who did not breastfeed.
Provides a natural form of family planning for six months
Breastfeeding produces the hormones oxytocin and prolactin. Prolactin inhibits the release of the sex hormones or gonadotropins, which stimulate the ovary to develop and release a mature egg. Without the production of a ripe egg, the ovaries do not release hormones to prepare the uterus for pregnancy. Hence, menstruation does not occur. This is called the Lactation amenorrhea.
- The mother is breastfeeding on demand or exclusively breastfeeding
- The infant is less than six months old with breastmilk as his sole source of nutrition such as no mix feeding and no solid food
- The mother’s menses has not yet returned since childbirth.
When any of these three criteria changes, a back-up contraceptive method that does not interfere with breastfeeding must be used if the woman is not yet desirous of pregnancy.
Mikaela G. Martinez-Bucu, MD, FPOGS, FPSRM is a Clinical Associate Professor at the UP College of Medicine-Philippine General Hospital and Active Consultant at Manila Doctors Hospital. She is a board-certified obstetrician gynecologist and fertility specialist. As a new mother to a one-year old son, she is an advocate for breastfeeding and Early Intrapartum and Newborn Care/EINC (Unang Yakap).