In our world today, society SEEMS to emphasize the importance of children and the importance of motherhood, but the emphasis in the mainstream society is on the materialistic aspects of these things - having the right THINGS, the right daycare, the right equipment, etc. However in the Church, we recognize the importance of the human person, and also the way in which God’s creation, when understood rightly, supports the optimal development - physical, mental, psychological, emotional and spiritual - of each person.
Research not only shows that breastfeeding has many benefits to babies, but also that there are risks to not breastfeeding. Non-breastfed babies are at increased risk of developing the following: dental and vision problems, allergies, Crohn's disease, leukemia, type 1 and type 2 diabetes, ear infections, severe diarrhea, obesity, ulcerative colitis, SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), osteoporosis, necrotizing enterocolitis, lower IQ, and heart disease (The Baby Book, Revised and Updated Edition 2013, p.135). Breastfeeding has a profound effect on your baby’s health!
Breast milk is a living fluid, so it changes its chemical proportions in response to different circumstances. If your baby is born prematurely, the proportions of protein and fat will change to accommodate a not-yet-full-term baby. Also, if you develop an illness, your body makes antibodies against that particular virus or bacteria, and those wonderful antibodies are then transferred to the baby via breast milk to protect your little one. When a toddler is still nursing but nursing less often than a younger baby, your milk compensates by increasing its concentration of immunities to continue protecting your toddler. In addition, the type of fats in your diet influences the types of fats present in your milk, so increasing your omega-3 fatty acid consumption is good for both of you. Breast milk is a great way for your baby to experience the different flavors of foods you eat. Breast milk is more than “just” milk!
Breastfeeding has many benefits for babies, but there are also great benefits for mothers as well. God’s plan always works for the good of all involved in a relationship. So when He designed breastfeeding to benefit babies, of course, He didn’t leave mothers out! Breastfeeding reduces your risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, cervical cancer, rheumatoid arthritis, and metabolic syndrome. If you have insulin dependent diabetes, you may find you will need less insulin while breastfeeding. Breastfeeding helps protect against high blood pressure, osteoporosis, and fractures, too (The Baby Book, Revised and Updated Edition 2013, p. 135). One of the focuses of this book, ecological breastfeeding, can extend your amenorrhea (no periods) and postpartum infertility naturally for months - and sometimes years - which can give you and baby more time to bond and give you more time to adjust to your new addition.
In addition, breastfeeding helps your uterus return to its original size sooner and with less risk of postpartum hemorrhage. Because you burn approximately 500 more calories per day when nursing than when not pregnant or nursing, you are more likely to return to your pre-pregnancy weight. The hormones produced during breastfeeding - prolactin and oxytocin - not only help your body make milk but also help you relax. The time you spend nursing your baby helps you bond and feel close to your baby. Breastfeeding is good for you both physically and emotionally.
Breastfeeding is also great for your pocketbook, for the environment and for the sanity of the mother since there is no need to prepare formula or wash bottles. Breast milk is free. Because many women experience amenorrhea for several months or years while breastfeeding, there is less waste from feminine hygiene products. The diapers of exclusively breastfed babies smell more pleasant than diapers of babies not breastfeeding (good for your home environment!). Breastfeeding makes night time parenting easier and traveling easier on mom, dad and baby because breast milk is readily available.
As Catholics, we believe that there is more to life than just our physical existence. Just as breastfeeding has many great physical benefits for the baby and mother, it also provides wonderful spiritual benefits as well. Mothering your baby at the breast helps your baby experience the unconditional love of Jesus in a very tangible way. You are your baby’s first glimpse of God. When you nurse him in the middle of the night, you are showing your baby that God will always take care of him. When you respond to his cries and put him to your breast, you are not only nourishing him physically but sharing God’s comfort.
There are spiritual benefits for you, too. God gives you special graces through the sacrament of Holy Matrimony and through your vocation of motherhood (whether it be by birth or adoption) to follow God’s will for you in this time of your life. Just as on some days you might not get a long shower or enough sleep, on other days God will want you to put up your feet, sip a glass of cold water, and enjoy some quiet time in His presence while nursing your sweet baby!
(Excerpted from Getting Started with Breastfeeding: For Catholic Mothers by Gina Peterson)