Breastfeeding is a wonderful gift for both you and your baby. Many mothers feel fulfillment and joy from the physical and emotional communion they experience with their child while nursing. These feelings are augmented by the release of the hormones prolactin, which produces a peaceful, nurturing sensation that allows you to relax and focus on your child, and oxytocin, which promotes a strong sense of love and attachment between the two of you. These pleasant feelings may be one of the reasons so many women who have breastfed their first child choose to breastfeed the children who follow.

Breastfeeding provides health benefits for mothers in addition to emotional satisfaction. Overall, women who breastfeed tend to lose pregnancy weight more quickly— usually at a rate of about one or two pounds per month. The hormone oxytocin acts to return the uterus to its regular size more quickly and can reduce postpartum bleeding. Studies show that women who have breastfed experience reduced rates of ovarian cancer and breast cancer later in life. Some studies suggest that breastfeeding may lead to an increase in bone mineral density after weaning that can protect you against osteoporosis and bone fractures in older age, although this has not been proven conclusively. Finally, exclusive breastfeeding delays the return of the mother’s menstrual period, which can help extend the time between pregnancies. (Exclusive breastfeeding can provide a natural form of contraception if the mother’s menses have not returned, the baby is breastfeeding day and night, and the baby is less than six months old.)

There are quite a few practical advantages to breastfeeding as well—bonuses the entire family can appreciate. For example, human milk is much less expensive than formula. During nursing you will need, at most, an extra three hundred to five hundred calories daily to produce sufficient breastmilk for your baby, while formula costs three or more dollars per day. At night, putting a baby to your breast is much simpler and faster than getting up to prepare or warm a bottle of formula. (Your partner can make night feedings even easier by changing the baby and bringing her to you for nursing.) It’s wonderful, too, to be able to pick up the baby and go out—whether around town or on longer trips—without having to carry a bag full of feeding equipment. Breastfeeding is also good for the environment, since there are no bottles to wash or formula cans to throw away.

As welcome as all of these benefits are, though, most mothers put the feeling of maternal fulfillment at the top of their list of reasons for breastfeeding. Breastfeeding provides a unique emotional experience for the nursing mother and the baby. Your partner, the baby’s siblings, and other relatives can all appreciate the new member of the family being welcomed in such a loving way.

Last Updated 11/30/2009
Source New Mother's Guide to Breastfeeding (Copyright © 2002 American Academy of Pediatrics)
AAP Policy on Breastfeeding and Use of Human Milk