More new moms than ever are nursing their newborns. That's great, and if you're among them or are looking ahead to having a baby soon, you've no doubt heard plenty about breast milk's big benefits for your little one. But did you know there are major perks for mothers, too?
New research is uncovering evidence of previously unknown health boosts for nursing women - one that lasts decades after your child is weaned. By switching on the amazing biochemical factory that produces breast milk, you re-boot parts of your metabolism. You become more sensitive to insulin (the hormone that controls blood sugar processing), levels of blood fats that threaten your heart drop, and so do levels of the fat inside your abdomen.
Benefits moms get from breastfeeding
We understand that breastfeeding isn't an option for every new mother. Nursing problems can include a low milk supply, medications you take, or a baby who can't get the hang of it. And then there are the everyday time constraints (like other kids or going back to work) and a general lack of support for breastfeeding. Just remember, the most important thing is to feed your baby.
But if you're among the estimated 95 percent of new moms who don't face insurmountable nursing obstacles — or the 79 percent who currently give it a try — you'll love knowing how this ancient art nurtures you too.
- Easier weight loss, less visceral fat. According to research, women who breastfeed their infants for six months or longer (breastfeeding burns 500 calories a day) were 30 percent less likely to become obese later in life. Breastfeeding also helps burn off deep abdominal fat that can accumulate during pregnancy.
- Lower risk for diabetes. Women who breastfeed for one year are 24 to 44 percent less likely to develop type 2 diabetes. Shorter stints help, too. Women who nurse for at least two months and who have gestational diabetes decrease their risk for developing type 2 diabetes by half.
- A healthier heart and blood vessels. Breastfeeding can reduce risk for developing high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol and heart disease by 20 percent or more. Nursing releases calming hormones like oxytocin and prolactin that don't just make you feel serene, they also "relax" your blood vessels. These benefits persist even beyond menopause.
- Reduced risk for some cancers. Nursing discourages ovulation. While this natural form of birth control isn't perfect (about one in 50 breastfeeding women who don't use contraception become pregnant), it could lower your odds for breast and ovarian cancer. Every month of breastfeeding cuts risk for some types of ovarian cancer by 1.4 to 2.2 percent.
- Protection from rheumatoid arthritis. Women who nurse their babies for at least a year cut their risk for developing this painful, degenerative joint condition by 50 percent.
Tools to help you breastfeed
We know that nursing's not always easy. Fortunately, today you've got more support than ever to help you make it work so you and baby can both reap all the benefits. Here are two great tools we recommend looking into:
- Insurance coverage for lactation consultants. Most health insurance now covers visits from these trained breast-feeding coaches. Check your plan for details. A certified lactation consultant can help get the two of you off to a great start and suggest solutions if problems crop up along the way.
- Coverage and help for pumping breast milk, too. Heading back to work? Keep nursing. Under the Affordable Care Act, most health insurers now cover costs for breast pumps and supplies. Also, many employers must now provide a clean, private place for women to pump breast milk and must allow nursing moms to take pumping breaks.
This content originally appeared on Sharecare.com.