Doctors and nurses and lactation consultants and public health workers always talk about how a mother improves a baby's health by breastfeeding, how the immune factors in breastmilk reduce the potential for infection, how the hormones that cross to the baby help it to grow, how certain fats improve brain function, and how each feature of breastmilk makes it the perfect food to nourish a baby.
But too often the benefits to the mother are ignored. That's unfortunate, because mothers truly do get some goodies for themselves (summarized in the table). Of course, there's this incredible mother-infant bonding that's enhanced by breastfeeding, but that bond activates in pregnancy and it would hard to believe that anything can increase that beautiful, nurturing relationship--or if it is increased, it may be the result of whatever makes a mother want to breastfeed in the first place.
Benefits of Breastfeeding for the Mother
Helps shrink uterus after childbirth
Promotes postpartum weight loss
Decreased insulin requirements in diabetic mothers
Increased sleep for mom
Protects mom against anemia
Improved emotional health
Stronger mother-child bond
Decreased risk of developing
Source: Bailey Koch, RD, CSP
That's not lessening the impact of breastfeeding, it merely means that bond is also available to mothers who formula feed their infants. But some of the unique factors are that breastfeeding helps to shrink the mother's uterus after birth and breastfeeding decreases a diabetic mother's insulin requirements. Both of these benefits probably result from a hormone release within the mother's system.
Many breastfeeding mothers appreciate the increased metabolism that making and delivering breastmilk generates. The extra calories required often help mothers quickly lose the weight they gained during pregnancy, even while they are consuming more to stay healthy and provide the baby's nutrition. Other mothers find that the energy required also helps them sleep and feel emotionally satisfied with all they are doing for their baby.
But frankly, some of the most important benefits are long term, with breastfeeding mothers having a decreased risk of female cancers (ovarian, uterine, endometrial and breast) years after they finished breastfeeding. No one is quite sure of what those protective factors are, but research is ongoing to understand why that occurs and whether prolonged breastfeeding will lessen the risk even more.