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If someone told you that you could improve your health, your baby’s health, and save society millions of dollars, at a cost of nothing to you, would you be interested? Of course you would. But you probably doubt that such a thing exists. Don’t be too sure. One of the most natural things in the world, breastfeeding a child, has benefits far beyond simple nutrition. These benefits include better health for you, the mother, lesser rates of disease and infection for your child, and a resultant decrease in overall health costs that individuals and society incur.

There are numerous short- and long-term benefits for the mother who breastfeeds her baby. When breastfeeding right after childbirth, the hormones oxytocin and pitocin are released, causing the uterus to contract and return more quickly to its normal size. Oxytocin also aids in constricting the blood vessels of the uterus, and therefore prevents too much bleeding after delivery. Breastfeeding should also help you to lose that pregnancy weight much more easily by burning up an additional 600 – 800 calories per day in milk production. A long-term benefit of breastfeeding your child, suggested by several scientific studies, is a reduced risk of breast, uterine, ovarian, and endometrial cancers. One theory is that the suppression of various hormones while lactating helps to reduce the risk. You may also be at decreased risk of developing osteoporosis. In addition to the physical benefits, there are numerous psychological benefits as well. The release of oxytocin while nursing helps to bring about a relaxation response. Of course, the closeness that comes about when a baby suckles aids in the bonding between mother and child, and there is a tremendous feeling of self-worth and empowerment in knowing that your body is nourishing your precious baby. And don’t forget the convenience factors! Breast milk is always the right temperature, and you don’t have to go to the kitchen in the middle of the night to get a bottle.

The benefits your child experiences by breastfeeding are numerous. Breast milk is the perfect “baby human” food. It contains over 100 nutrients and cannot be duplicated by manufactured formula. It provides infants with an easily digested food source. Breast milk passes on immunities that will help protect your child from things like flus, colds, and ear infections. More serious illnesses, like childhood leukemias, lymphomas and diabetes, occur at a far lesser frequency among breastfed children. Breastfeeding also protects against various allergies, reduces the rate of SIDS, and decreases the incidence of dental caries. Your child will continue to receive these benefits, even after he or she has started solids and is nursing less. If the above benefits haven’t convinced you yet, here are some more positive aspects of breastfeeding your child. Your baby is easily comforted at the breast, and helps him or her to feel more secure and attached. There is a decreased rate of obesity among breastfed children. Could the fact that the baby-boomer generation was the first primarily nourished by formula be a factor in today’s high obesity rates? One wonders. Another benefit is the overall higher IQ’s in breastfed infants over formula-fed babies. Various elements of breast milk enhance the development of the brain and improve cognitive functioning as well. Finally, another important long-term benefit has also been observed in breastfed children. They seem to have a decreased rate of breast cancers, just as their breastfeeding mothers do.

To top off its wondrous health benefits, breastfeeding seems to have a significant economic benefit also. The most obvious one is that it is free. No formula costs, and no purchases of bottles and nipples are necessary. The average yearly cost for formula is estimated at $1000. In terms of societal costs, the cost of providing formula via the WIC program to non-breastfeeding mothers annually was approximately $2.5 million as of 1997. Because of the reduced rates of illness, hospitalizations, medications, and long-term disease, significant cost savings are realized when more children are breastfed. In fact, one study from 1997 suggested an annual national cost savings of around $4 billion. At a time when the costs of health care are on the forefront of most political discussions, it seems that a cost-free method of reducing expenditures has been virtually ignored by both the media and politicians.

It is easy to see that breastfeeding has enormous benefits for mother, child, and society. If you are debating over whether or not you should breastfeed your child, think about what you have just read. And the next time you see a breastfeeding mother, thank her. She’s helping you, too.