Dr Leneque X Lindeque tells us about the lesser known health benefits of breastfeeding for both mom and baby… 

While the presence of disease fighting antibodies in breastmilk is commonly mooted as a benefit of breastfeeding, Dr Lindeque, an obstetrician and gynaecologist practising at Netcare Alberlito Hospital, says that there are many additional advantages to breastfeeding.

“It is important to emphasise that breastfeeding holds significant value for both mother and baby. That is why on-going education is important as many women are still unaware of its multiple benefits,” she says.

A healthier baby overall

Dr Lindeque highlights the following benefits of breastfeeding:

“Incidences of pneumonia, colds and viruses as well as gastrointestinal infections such as diarrhoea are greatly reduced. Chronic illnesses such as diabetes, heart disease, obesity and certain cancers are also less likely to occur in breastfed infants. In addition research indicates that the IQ and development of your baby is significantly improved.

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“Breastmilk assists with the transfer of the mother’s immune system and fills an ‘immunological gap’ while the infant’s immune system is still immature. Breastfed babies are also less likely to develop allergies, with research further indicating a better antibody response to vaccines. Your baby’s risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is also reduced by about half,” she explains.

A health boost for mother

According to Dr Lindeque, breastfeeding not only provides protection against the development of pre-menopausal breast cancer but also reduces the risk of ovarian and uterine cancers. “And because lactating women absorb calcium more efficiently, they run less of a risk of developing post-menopausal osteoporosis.

Breastfed babies’ risk of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is also reduced by about half

“Another major benefit is that women experience better healing post-delivery. Not only does the uterus return to its original size sooner if breastfeeding is initiated soon after birth, but it also reduces the chances of harmful bleeding. It has also been documented that women who have had Caesarean sections heal faster,” she adds.

Dr Lindeque points out that regular breastfeeding around the clock during the first few months after birth can delay menstruation and therefore serves as a form of birth control. “However, this is not one hundred percent reliable and women should not see this as a fool-proof alternative to birth control,” she advises.

Considering that the production of breastmilk can burn up to 400 calories in a day, breastfeeding is a completely natural way of promoting weight loss and, according to Dr Lindeque, significantly enhances a mother’s bonding with baby and reduces the likelihood of the mother suffering from post-partum anxiety and depression.

“Last but not least breastfeeding is convenient and economical. Breastmilk is always readily available at the right temperature and without the hassle of having to sterilise bottles. And of course it is significantly cheaper than formula milk.

“Ultimately it is important to emphasise that, although breastfeeding is natural, it is not always easy to initiate. In instances where the mother is struggling, I would encourage them to contact their healthcare provider or a registered lactation consultant for help and support rather than choosing to stop breastfeeding,” she concludes.