More new moms than ever are nursing their newborns, according to the latest Breastfeeding Report Card from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 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 reboot parts of your metabolism. You become more sensitive to insulin – the hormone that controls blood sugar processing – levels of heart-threatening blood fats drop, and so do levels of the fat inside your abdomen.
We understand that breast-feeding 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 (other kids) and a lack of support. Just remember, as a wise lactation consultant once said, “The most important thing is to feed the 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.
1. Easier weight loss, less visceral fat
According to the U.K.’s Million Women Study, women who breast-fed their infants for six months or longer – breast-feeding burns 500 calories a day, the researchers note – were 30 percent less likely to become obese later in life. Breast-feeding also helps burn off deep abdominal fat that can accumulate during pregnancy. In one study, breast-feeding women had 28 percent less visceral fat than those who did not breast-feed.
2. Lower risk for diabetes
Women who breast-fed for one year were 24 percent to 44 percent less likely to develop Type 2 diabetes, say Harvard Medical School researchers who tracked over 70,000 women for 16 years. Shorter stints help, too. In a recent study, women who nursed for at least two months and who had gestational diabetes slashed their risk for developing Type 2 diabetes in half.
3. A healthier heart and blood vessels
Breast-feeding reduced the risk for developing high blood pressure, high lousy LDL cholesterol and heart disease by 20 percent or more in one University of Pittsburgh study. Nursing releases calming hormones like oxytocin and prolactin that don’t just make you feel serene, they also seem to relax your blood vessels. Benefits persist beyond menopause!
4. Reduced risk for some cancers
Nursing discourages ovulation. While this natural form of birth control isn’t perfect – about 1 in 50 breast-feeding women who don’t use contraception become pregnant – it could lower your odds for breast and ovarian cancer somewhat. Every month of breast-feeding cuts risk for some types of ovarian cancer by 1.4 percent to 2.2 percent.
5. Protection from rheumatoid arthritis
One large study noted that women who nursed their baby for at least a year cut their risk for developing this painful, degenerative joint condition by 50 percent.
We know that nursing’s not always easy. Fortunately, today you’ve got more support than ever to help you make it work. Two big tools:
• 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, too. In addition, many employers must now provide a clean, private place for women to pump breast milk and must allow nursing moms to take pumping breaks.
See related story on giving children born by C-section a healthier start, Page 10
Dr. Mehmet Oz is host of “The Dr. Oz Show,” and Buffalo native Dr. Mike Roizen is chief wellness officer and chairman of the Wellness Institute at the Cleveland Clinic.