Breastfeeding, also known as nursing, is a natural and beautiful process that helps create intimacy and bonding between mother and baby. The connection and bonding felt during this nurturing embrace can provide beneficial psychological effects, like lowering stress and increasing feelings of calm.

Love hormones to better sleep: Hidden perks of breastfeeding (Unsplash)

In an interview with HT Lifestyle, Khusbu Jha, Lactation Expert and Physiotherapist at Cloudnine Group of Hospitals in New Delhi’s Kailash Colony, shared, “Breast milk contains all the nutrients that an infant needs in the first 6 months of life, including fat, carbohydrates, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water. It is easily digested and efficiently used. Breast milk also contains bio-active factors that augment the infant’s immature immune system, providing protection against infection and other factors that help digestion and absorption of nutrients.”

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What are the benefits of breast feeding for mother?

Khusbu Jha answered, “Breast feeding creates a experience of emotional connection between mother and baby but beside this there are many more benefits of breast feeding for mother breast feeding helps to lower down the inflammation level thus it helps in decreasing diabetes and sleep disorders. One of the biggest and maybe most surprising, psychological benefits of breastfeeding is better sleep. In fact, mothers who only breastfeed may find that they fall asleep easier, stay asleep longer and sleep more deeply.”

She explained, “When you breastfeed, your body makes the hormones prolactin and oxytocin. Oxytocin produces a peaceful, nurturing feeling that allows you to relax and focus on your child. It also promotes a strong sense of love and attachment between you and your baby. Breastfeeding can also support your baby’s physical and emotional wellness. Breastfed babies cry less overall and have fewer incidences of childhood illness. Breastfeeding creates a bonding experience between mother and child because it promotes skin-to-skin contact, more holding and stroking.”

Khusbu Jha elaborated, “Many experts say that affectionate bonding during the first years of life helps lessen social and behavioral problems in both children and adults. Breastfeeding can also help mothers learn to read their infant’s cues and can help babies learn to trust caregivers. This helps shape a baby’s early behaviour. Women who breastfeed their children longer exhibit more maternal sensitivity well past the infant and toddler years, according to a 10-year longitudinal study published by the American Psychological Association.”

Benefits of Breastfeeding for Baby

Breastfeeding is associated with numerous health benefits to offspring and mothers and may improve maternal-infant bonding. Ample evidence suggests breastfeeding can improve child neuron development but more research is needed to establish whether breastfeeding is linked to the development of child psychopathology.

Khusbu Jha said, “Breastfeeding can give the mother peace of mind that her breast milk is helping keep her baby happy and healthy. It provides stronger immune system in babies they have less episodes of diarrhoea, constipation and other digestive issues. It lessens the episodes of stomach inflammation and lower the levels of acid reflux. There are fewer cold and respiratory illness like pneumonia, whooping cough, other respiratory virus infections; fewer ear infections, which can damage hearing; fewer cases of bacterial meningitis, better vision and less risk of developing blindness, lower rates of infant death, lower rates of sudden infant death syndrome, less illness overall, with less likelihood of hospitalisation.”

She added, “In addition to providing physical benefits through critical nutrients, research shows that breastfeeding also has a deep and lasting effect on thought and understanding, behaviour and mental health in children.” For instance, babies who are breastfed are likely to have:

  • Stronger critical thinking and reasoning skills
  • Better memory
  • Early language ability
  • Enhanced motor skills

How to start creating a bond between mother and baby before feeding?

You’ve spent months imagining meeting your baby – now the wait is over. Khusbu Jha said, “These first few weeks of breastfeeding are a special baby bonding time and the perfect opportunity for you to get to know one another. When your baby is born, you may feel an almost overwhelming sense of love, and a strong desire to protect her. But bonding is an individual experience, so don’t worry if this isn’t immediate. It will take time to get to know your newborn and bonding develops and strengthens through caring for her.”

She asserted, “For both parents, the important thing is to get used to looking after your new arrival – being close to her, talking to her, holding and cuddling her. This increases your confidence as a parent and also gives your baby the best start, emotionally, physically, mentally – and helps breastfeeding too.”

Holding your baby skin-to-skin

You’ve probably heard about the importance of skin-to-skin contact, where you hold your nappy-clad baby against your bare chest (with a light blanket or cardigan over you for warmth if needed). Khusbu Jha highlighted, “Early skin-to-skin, ideally within an hour of birth, helps release hormonal triggers that encourage your newborn to find your breast and begin sucking on your nipple. One study found newborns who spent over 50 minutes in a skin-to-skin position were eight times more likely to breastfeed spontaneously. Skin-to-skin contact isn’t just for that first hour, either. It’s wonderful for any time your baby needs calming or comforting, and to help boost your milk supply.”

She added, “Skin-to-skin also has many other benefits for your baby, such as regulating her heartbeat and breathing, as well as keeping her at the perfect temperature and helping to maintain healthy blood-sugar levels. If you’re not able to be with your baby straight after birth for any reason, your partner will be encouraged to hold her skin-to-skin to give her these benefits and keep her feeling safe, loved and warm until you’re ready to do so yourself.”

Oxytocin: Vital for breastfeeding and bonding

Adjusting to motherhood can be daunting but did you know those precious skin-to-skin moments are soothing for you as well as for your baby? Khusbu Jha shared, “During skin-to-skin, you’ll release a powerful cocktail of calming hormones, including oxytocin – often referred to as the ‘love hormone’ or ‘cuddle chemical’. Released whenever you’re close to your newborn, and even when you simply smell her or think about her, this clever hormone helps you adjust to motherhood in a number of ways. It enhances your ‘mothering behaviour – things like caressing,making eye contact and using affectionate language.”

Additionally, she revealed, “It also has anti-anxiety and anti-depressive properties, and may help protect against postnatal depression. It’s also thought that early release of oxytocin primes your brain for breastfeeding your baby, as well as stimulating your breasts to make milk. You’ll also release beta-endorphin, a hormone that encourages you to respond to your baby’s needs. Don’t be surprised if the urge to soothe her when she cries is overwhelming at times – this is a normal maternal instinct. Beta-endorphin also creates feelings of pleasure and calmness.”

Making eye contact with your baby

Khusbu Jha informed, “Your baby can see in black, white and gray from birth (by around three months old, she’ll be able to make out colors more clearly) and can focus on things less than 25 cm (9.8 in) away. That’s near enough for her to see your face when breastfeeding – she might even make eye contact with you for a few moments. In the early days your baby will be breastfeeding very frequently, so you’ll be experiencing this intimate connection multiple times a day.”

Using your voice to bond:

Khusbu Jha pointed out, “A full-term baby’s hearing is well developed. Fetus respond to sounds from as early as 19 weeks of pregnancy, and newborns have been shown to prefer their mother’s voice to others, and even to recognize melodies they heard in utero. Speaking softly to your newborn helps develop a two-way relationship, which is important for her future social skills. You could talk about anything, from who’s visiting to the view from your window it really doesn’t matter, newborns are a captive audience! Singing is also a fun way to bond, even if you don’t have the best voice.”

She concluded, “Breast milk is the most perfect food for babies during the first two years and no replacement is recommended during this time. Breastfeeding has so many health benefits for both mother and baby during the breastfeeding period as well as in the future.”