Breastfeeding and Baby Making: More is More

New study finds that women who breastfeed for five or more months are more likely to have more kids.

Every new mother is asked the question, “Are you going to breastfeed?” At first, it may not seem like such a big decision--how much can it affect you or your baby’s future? A new study done at Cornell University has shown that it may relate to your future fertility more than you think.

In this article, we’ll talk about:

  • What this new study shows
  • Benefits of breastfeeding
  • Drawbacks of breastfeeding
  • When to make the decision whether to breastfeed

The Study - Breastfeeding and Your Future

Breastfeeding is a big decision for many first time mothers. How does it affect your baby and all future children you may have?

In “Intensive Parenting: Fertility and Breastfeeding Duration in the United States,” using 30 years of data from a nationally representative group of women, the relationships between breastfeeding duration and completed fertility and fertility expectations were examined. Cornell professor of sociology Vida Maralani, along with Hunter College professor Samuel Stabler, made many observations about how breastfeeding and expected fertility correlated and found that these relations cannot be explained by personal or family resources.

The study reports that women’s expected fertility did not change depending on how long they decided to breastfeed, but that their actual fertility did. That is, the length of time women spent breastfeeding correlated highly with whether they reached their expected fertility or not.

Women who breastfed for five months or longer are a distinct group. They had more children overall, and were more likely to have three children than two, compared with women who breastfed less than five months or not at all.

Women who breastfed for less than 22 weeks are less likely to reach or meet their expected fertility. And women who breastfed for longer than this were significantly more likely to meet their earlier expectations (expectations were taken at least one year before their conception of their first child) and to exceed them.

Maralani warns that this is not to say that breastfeeding causes a woman to have more children, but rather indicates the link between family preferences and child investment across the life-course. That is, breastfeeding is a significant time investment, and women who are willing to make this investment prefer a larger family and are willing to meet that expectation.

Does this mean that you should be breastfeeding your baby? Let’s take a look at some of the benefits and drawbacks, and that’ll hopefully help you come to your own conclusion in the time frame we illustrate below.

Benefits for Baby and You

Breastfeeding can be an opportunity to bond with your newborn. (image courtesy of PNGTree)

It is said that breast milk is nature’s perfect baby food. The amino acids in breast milk, the building blocks of protein, are well balanced for babies, as are the sugars and fats. There are numerous nutritional and health related benefits of breastfeeding for your baby and for you. Here are just a few of them:

Benefits for Baby

  • Protects against allergies and eczema - proteins in cow and soy milk can stimulate allergic reactions, while human milk is more easily digested
  • Can cause fewer stomach aches and constipation - also because breast milk is easier to digest
  • Reduces the risk for urinary tract infections, inflammatory bowel disease, gastroenteritis, ear and respiratory infections - incidences of these diseases are reduced among breastfed children
  • Lessens the risk for Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) - the link may be unclear, but breastfed children account for only half as many SIDS cases as formula infants do
  • Makes vaccines more effective - breastfed infants have a better antibody response to vaccines than formula fed babies
  • May make baby smarter - the research is still out on this, but the fatty acids in breast milk are thought to be brain boosters, leading to a higher IQ later in life
  • Could help prevent obesity - studies show that breast infants are less likely to be obese later in life; the idea is that breastfeeding mothers get in tune to signals that their baby is full, and therefore they don’t overfeed, which affects baby’s eating patterns later in life
  • Brings baby closer to you - while formula fed babies do form bonds with their mothers, the skin-to-skin contact of breastfeeding is soothing to a newborn

Benefits for You

  • Lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer - studies show that women who breastfeed have less risk of cancer later on
  • Helps you lose the pregnancy weight - Milk production burns from 300 to 500 calories a day, therefore helping you lose more weight naturally and without severe dieting
  • Triggers your uterus to get back to pre-pregnancy size - you may even feel mild contractions for the first few weeks of nursing
  • May lower your risk of osteoporosis - women who breastfeed have a lower risk of postmenopausal osteoporosis
  • Delays menstruation - breastfeeding baby around the clock will delay ovulation, which means delayed menstruation (and we can all imagine how much of a blessing a delay that will be!)
  • Saves you money - formula goes for $134 to $491 per month, depending on baby’s needs (do I even have to say more?)
  • Gives you closeness with your baby - most mothers cite this as the biggest benefit of breastfeeding; you and your baby exchange looks, noises, cuddles during a nursing session, communicating love to each other

Drawbacks of Breastfeeding

Okay, so we’ve pitched you some of the benefits of breastfeeding. Are there any drawbacks? We found only a few:

  • More stress on the mother - breastfed babies eat more frequently than formula fed babies, therefore mothers may face the stress of more frequent feedings
  • Inefficient supply of milk - sometimes mothers cannot produce an adequate supply of milk; however this typically only happens if the mother is not breastfeeding correctly or frequently enough
  • Family members can feel left out - considering that this is a task only a mother can take part in, fathers and siblings may feel left out of the caring process; however, they can be involved in other parts of the process
  • Timing difficulties - a mother’s maternity leave is often over before it is time to wean the baby, therefore they have to make sure to pump enough milk in time for day care needs,whether this is at a facility or if the baby is at home with another family member

While these are not huge drawbacks, there are also instances where a mother simply cannot breastfeed her baby. Mothers who are survivors of breast cancer or taking medications that may adversely affect their baby may find formula feeding necessary.

When to Decide?

As your body is only prepared to breastfeed for a limited time, it’s best to make the decision sooner rather than later.

Whether you breastfeed or not is an important decision, as during your baby’s first year of life, they will triple in body weight, and most of it is coming from your baby’s source of nutrition. Your ability to produce milk also diminishes soon after childbirth without the stimulation of breastfeeding. This makes it almost impossible to change your mind about breastfeeding once you have started formula feeding. So it’s better to make this decision sooner rather than later.

As soon as conception is confirmed, you should speak with your doctor about your wishes for feeding your baby. This way you can voice any medical concerns about breast or formula feeding before childbirth, and be prepared for however you wish to feed your baby when you welcome them into the world.

There is a connection between breastfeeding and meeting family size expectations; while this is not to say that breast feeding causes higher fertility, there is a link between family preferences and child investment that cannot be explained by any socioeconomic standing. There are many factors to take into account when deciding whether to breastfeed, but you have to make the decision before childbirth. Trust that whatever decision you make, it will be the right one for you and your new bundle of joy!

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