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By now you likely know all the wonderful things breastfeeding does for your baby, but did you know that natureís most perfect feeding system is as beneficial for you as it is for your little one? Here are some of the many ways nursing your baby can improve your life, emotionally and physically.

Calming effect
The release of breast milk has a soothing effect on your body, stimulating the production of Ŗ-endorphins, chemicals that bring on feelings of peace and relaxation and suppress anxiety and irritability. Nursing also requires you to sit or lie quietly with your infant many times throughout the day, encouraging you to rest and refuel.

Bonding
Those same natural chemicals - and the time spent holding your child -promote feelings of affection, well-being, and intimacy that help you bond with your baby. That connection is important not just in the early weeks, when you are getting to know each other, but also later on when you may be returning to work and spending more time away from your family.

Shaping up
Breastfeeding releases a hormone that stimulates your uterus to contract, helping control blood loss and return to its pre-pregnancy shape. Nursing also helps return you to your pre-pregnancy shape - and keep you there - by burning 200 to 500 calories a day, the equivalent of swimming 30 laps or biking for an hour. This natural weight-loss program is unusually effective, providing not just relatively rapid but also lasting results.

Stronger bones
Women who breastfeed are 75 percent less likely to develop osteoporosis than women who feed their babies formula. While most mothers lose a small amount of bone mass during nursing, within months of weaning, their bodies have replaced it with new, denser, stronger bone.

Reduced cancer risk
Women who have nursed their babies are less likely to develop breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and uterine cancer than women who have never breastfed. Some of this protection has been shown to grow over time, increasing with the number of months or years a woman breastfeeds.

Convenience
Nursing simplifies your life by eliminating the need to plan and prepare food for your infant. Whether you are at home, out and about, or just trying to get a good nightís sleep, breast milk is ready at a momentís notice, in the perfect quantity, at just the right temperature, and in the ideal formulation for your child.

A healthier family
Because your breast milk contains powerful antibodies, your baby will have an easier time fighting off illnesses, which means you will spend less time caring for a sick child. This reduces stress for the whole family, whether you are at home with your child or returning to work.

More money for you
Breastfeeding saves you plenty over the cost of bottles and formula - as much as $1,400 a year, according to our calculations. Thatís money you can spend on other things, like taking care of yourself so that you can better take care of everyone else!

Charlotte Meryman is editor of Parenting from the Heart.

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