When I became a mom seven months ago, I knew I wanted to breastfeed my son. I had read all about the benefits of breast milk and I wanted to experience that special bond. Not to mention, it’s free! However, it wasn’t until I had to explain breastfeeding to those around me that I really took the time to understand what sets breast milk apart.
Every time I learned a new fact about breast milk, my mind was blown and I was empowered with the knowledge I needed to continue my breastfeeding journey. So, whether you are a breastfeeding momma or there’s one in your life, here are some facts about breast milk to encourage your support:
- The composition of breast milk changes over time. When baby is first born, the “early milk”, or colostrum, is high in the proteins and antibodies that a newborn so desperately needs. As baby grows older, milk becomes fattier and continuously changes its composition to meet your baby’s growing needs.
- Breast milk changes during a feeding. Like water flowing from a faucet slowly changing cold water to warm water, so does breast milk slowly change from fore milk to hind milk during a feeding. When baby first starts suckling, he/she receives fore milk, which is more watery and quenches baby’s thirst. As it changes to hind milk, it becomes fattier giving baby the calories he/she needs.
- Flavors from mother’s diet are transmitted to baby through breast milk. Researchers have found that infants respond differently to foods they are exposed to through breast milk. For example, babies of mothers who ate carrots during lactation ate more carrots and made less negative faces than babies of mothers who did not. Think about it like this — mom is teaching baby what foods she has access to and what foods are a part of their culture through her milk.
- Breast milk helps baby differentiate day and night. Breast milk is full of hormones and those hormones follow mom’s circadian rhythm, meaning day milk is completely different than night milk. Researchers even believe that the hormones and amino acids found in nighttime milk help induce baby’s sleep.
- Breast milk passes on antibodies for immunity-boosting power. When baby is exposed to a new germ, mommy’s body can detect it and manufacture antibodies to fight against it. Those antibodies are passed on to baby through breast milk. What’s more, doctors encourage mom to continue breastfeeding if she is sick with a cold (or some other run-of-the-mill illness) because her body started making and passing on antibodies to baby long before she showed symptoms. Continuing to breastfeed through an illness can actually help protect baby against it.
- Breast milk helps create a healthy gut environment. The human-gut microbiome is an assortment of microorganisms living throughout the intestinal tract. Recently, science has boomed with studies discovering the connections between gut microbiota and both disease and health. One of the benefits of breast milk is that it promotes the growth of good bacteria in the intestines. The healthful bacteria, B. infantis, grows better than any other in the presence of breast milk. It helps to seal the baby’s intestines and has been found to be anti-inflammatory.
Even with the knowledge of the endless benefits to breastfeeding, for many mothers it may not be an easy journey. That is why I value the support I have received from the breastfeeding mommies in my life and encourage you to find the same system of support amongst your friends and family.
If you are pregnant and want to breastfeed, I encourage you to seek out support through La Leche League (llli.org), a lactation consultant (most hospitals have certified LCs), or support groups in your area.