Besides providing essential nutrients to your child and helping you shed post-natal weight, breastfeeding has other crucial benefits that every mother needs to know about.
Do you know that in the first 18 months, movement is as critical as nutrition for a baby? During this time, a baby’s brain develops at the fastest rate in his entire life. Moving from a newborn with little muscular capacity to a walking toddler is a baby’s main objective, and what an amazing feat that is!
So how can breastfeeding your baby kickstart this powerful developmental phase? Beyond physical nourishment, the act of breastfeeding provides a rich sensorial experience that awakens their senses.
Breastfeeding benefits #1: Awakening movement through senses
A newborn baby’s eyesight is still poor in his first few weeks. Babies rely heavily on their sense of smell to seek mommy’s unique scent – the same milk scent that lingers on our clothes during our breastfeeding days. Have you noticed how a newborn moves his head when he’s seeking his mommy’s breast? A baby will tilt his head and arch his neck upwards with a wide gaping mouth, looking for nourishment. Babies are highly motivated to proactively move towards what they desire!
Breastfeeding benefits #2: A little anatomical explanation
When babies do their “I want to drink milk” neck arches, they move the first two vertebrae known as the atlas (C1) and the axis (C2). The muscles supporting these two vertebrae, known as the sub-occipitals, coordinate eye movement. Try it out yourself – put your fingers at the base of your skull on each side of the spine, then gaze left, right, up and down. You will most likely feel tiny movements in your fingers – those are your sub-occipital muscles.
So besides awakening their sense of smell, babies also use their eyes to latch onto mommy. The regular head tilts will develop a baby’s neck muscles and voila, in a few months he’ll be able to hold his head up.
Breastfeeding benefits #3: The sense of touch
As tough as breastfeeding can be on the body, a mommy is rewarded when her baby’s gaze locks onto her, showering her with a feeling of sweetest unconditional love. A baby experiences the loving cradle of his mother as an assurance of security and safety. When a mother caresses her baby, his nervous system responds positively and he feels safe and protected. Such feelings are important for healthy social and emotional development. Research has shown that babies who were unloved will grow up into teenagers and adults with impaired social and emotional regulation.
Breastfeeding, therefore, is a triple dose nutrient – essential both for physical and mental growth, led by a baby’s instincts in his search for sustenance. All those months of love and care from mommy will also help them grow to be happy and calm babies. Truly a whole package of the best a child can receive in his first year of life!
By Amy Tan
Amy Tan is a movement therapist and educator passionate about living with nature. Since becoming a mother, she left the city for a free-range farm life in the jungle where she raises her two children. Her jungle family life was featured on the documentary series, Living Free with Kimi Werner on National Geographic.
To read more about breastfeeding, take a look at 16 Healthy & Easy Ideas for Breastfeeding Moms and Blast From the Past: Breastfeeding Tales from Baby Boomers.