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Sharp Health News

5 amazing facts about breastfeeding

Sept. 13, 2022

Mother with baby

Breastfeeding babies is something that humans have done for millions of years. It has many health benefits for both the breastfeeding parent and baby, including lowering the baby’s risk for illness and future health problems.

But what else is there to know about breastfeeding? More than you might think.

Jennifer Valenzuela, RN, clinical lead of the lactation consultants at Sharp Grossmont Hospital for Women & Newborns, shares her knowledge about breastfeeding, including its benefits, where new mothers can find support and a few amazing facts you might not know.

Breastfeeding benefits parent and baby.

According to Valenzuela, breastfeeding is beneficial to both the child and parent who is breastfeeding. “The nutritional components and the immune properties found only in breastmilk provide everything a baby needs for the first 6 months of their lives,” she says.

Breastfeeding parents can benefit, too. “The chances of acquiring certain cancers, Type 2 diabetes and hypertension decrease when a parent breastfeeds,” Valenzuela adds.

Breastfeeding isn’t always easy.

While breastfeeding is a natural way for babies to receive nutrition, that doesn’t mean it’s always an easy or intuitive process for a new parent. In the beginning stages, “it can be difficult for the baby to latch onto their mother,says Valenzuela. Most of the time, though, this resolves itself.”

It is also common for a newly breastfeeding parent to worry about their infant’s behaviors when they are breastfeeding, even though most of these behaviors are to be expected. “It can be a very overwhelming time,” Valenzuela says.

Support is available for new parents.

If new parents have questions about breastfeeding their little one, the lactation departments at Sharp Grossmont, Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns and Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center have teams of experts who are ready to answer their questions by phone. Parents can leave a voicemail with their questions and a lactation nurse will call them back.

Sharp hospitals also offer in-person breastfeeding classes, as well as free, in-person support groups and free, online support groups for breastfeeding parents. In these support groups, parents can come to the hospital, weigh their babies and breastfeed with the assistance of a lactation consultant. “We also weigh after feedings to ensure the infant is receiving the appropriate amount of milk,” says Valenzuela.

5 amazing facts about breastfeeding

Valenzuela offers five additional facts about breastfeeding:

1. Breastfed babies usually get sick less often.

Breastfeeding lowers the risk of ear infections, diarrhea and stomach problems. “There are several components that get passed down from mother to child via breastmilk to help with the infant’s immunity,” says Valenzuela. An example of one of these components in breastmilk is the special antibody called Secretory IgA (SIgA).

The concentration of this antibody is particularly high in the first milk a mother produces. The antibody provides immediate protection for an infant entering a new world full of bacteria. SIgA will:

  • Target and eliminate harmful germs that the mother, and consequently her baby, have come into contact with
  • Coat the infant's intestines, blocking germs from getting into the infant's body
  • Encourage the growth of normal, healthy gut bacteria for the baby
2. Breastfeeding a baby can burn the same number of calories needed to walk several miles.

Medical professionals agree that breastfeeding has weight-loss benefits. “However, there are no conclusive studies that say breastfeeding alone leads to dropping the postpartum pounds,” says Valenzuela.

Breastfeeding parents will burn approximately 500 calories a day. Depending on their weight, this may be similar to walking about 5 miles.

3. Research shows the chances of certain cancers are decreased for breastfeeding women.

This includes breast cancer and premenopausal ovarian cancer. In addition, a breastfeeding parent also receives significant protective effects from Type 2 diabetes mellitus, hypertension (high blood pressure), heart attack and anemia.

4. A newborn baby’s tummy is small — about the size of a marble.

In the first 24 hours, it is not necessary for newborns to have large volumes of milk due to their small tummy. But it is important they still receive colostrum (early breastmilk produced by the parent).

“Small amounts of breastmilk in the first few days are expected,” says Valenzuela. “We encourage all parents to hand express colostrum and give drops to their newborn, whether baby is latching or not. This assures we are coating the infant’s gut with all those healthy immune properties.”

5. Breastfed babies have a lower risk of obesity.

Breastmilk contains leptin, an appetite-regulating hormone. Studies show breastfed infants have higher levels of serum leptin than formula-fed infants and that low serum leptin may be correlated with high body mass index (BMI) in childhood. A breastfeeding parent’s BMI could also influence an infant’s serum leptin levels.

Learn more about breastfeeding classes and support group webinars for breastfeeding offered by Sharp HealthCare.

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