In honor of National Breastfeeding Week, we want to discuss the beauty of breastmilk and the benefits it brings to both you and your baby. Breastfeeding in itself can be an incredibly positive experience, but it’s the properties of breastmilk that truly promote your newborn’s healthy development. The list of benefits is long, but for today, we’ve narrowed them down to our top list: The 7 Wonders of Breastmilk. Of course, breastfeeding isn’t for everyone, and for those of you who aren’t doing so, we’ve got some great tips to help you make the most of your other options.
The 7 Wonders of Breastmilk
Here are some of the ways breastfeeding can benefit your baby – prepare to be amazed!
1. Develop taste buds – All breast milk tastes different. If you dine regularly on spicy meals, you’ll produce milk with different hints of flavor than someone who loves her leafy greens. Your baby will learn a lot about your diet and tastes through drinking your milk, and will learn to love similar foods as a result.
2. Improve sleep patterns – The hormones in your body are passed on to your baby through breastmilk, and this includes hormones that mediate sleep patterns. So even before babies have any concept of day or night, you’ll help them learn when it’s time to sleep. Let’s take a look at the science behind this… melatonin is an endogenous hormone that only becomes active at night; when the sun goes down, melatonin is released into your bloodstream and you begin to feel less alert and ready to hit the hay! Levels remain high throughout the night (around 12 hours), and drop again in the morning, making you feel more awake and ready to start the day.
3. Aid digestion – You may have noticed a thick, yellowish, sticky substance coming out of your breasts during late pregnancy and just after birth. This is called colostrum. As well as being full of nutrients and antibodies, this golden liquid is low in fat but high in carbs and protein, making it easy on your baby’s tummy to digest. This is especially important as your baby’s digestive system is still developing, and colostrum will help promote good digestive health right from the start.
4. Round-the-clock growth – You’ll be surprised by how fast your newborn is growing out of your favorite outfits, and you have lactose to thank for it! Lactose is the main carbohydrate in breast milk, and it provides all of the calories and energy needed to boost your baby’s growth. A few days after you’ve given birth, your milk matures and becomes rich in essential vitamins and minerals to help your baby progress. Sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, and vitamins A, C, and E, as well as long chain fatty acids like DHA (an omega-3) and AA (an omega-6) are all contained within that milk!
5. Fight infections – Perhaps the most impressive quality of breastmilk is that it can actually adapt its immunological composition and act like a medicine that actively targets infections in your baby. Sound too good to be true? Here’s how it works: while your baby is sucking on your breast a vacuum is created, and your nipple pulls in some of your baby’s saliva. Receptors in your mammary gland can detect if any pathogens are present, and if they are, they’ll produce antibodies to fight them off. These antibodies are then released along with the breastmilk where they travel back into your baby’s body and help them to recover. Impressive, right? We think so too.
6. Strengthen bond – The connection between mom and baby when breastfeeding is unique. As a mom, you know exactly what your baby needs and feel empowered by the fact that you can provide it for them. For your baby, being so close to you – hearing your heartbeat, smelling your scent, and feeling your softness, makes this a very special time to get to know you and find comfort in you.
7. Promote brain development -if you plan to nurse your baby, be sure to start as early as possible as this will lead to more grey matter production in their brain. The brain is made up of two types of matter, grey and white. Grey matter is made up of cell bodies, whereas white matter is made up of axons that form connections between the cell bodies. White matter is what allows communication and connection between different parts of the brain, but the grey matter is where the actual processing – or thinking – occurs. Studies have shown that early breastfeeding leads to more grey matter, which can help your baby’s brain to grow and process things more quickly.
Now we understand that a lot of moms don’t breastfeed – whether by choice, due to latching issues, or for another personal reason. But that’s what breastfeeding is – a personal choice – and ultimately you’ll be able to nourish and bond with your baby regardless of what that choice is. We also know that there can be a lot of pressure to breastfeed, and that pressure can negatively impact your wellbeing, and a positive wellbeing is what matters most. That’s why we’ve put together a short list of how you can make the most of bottle-feeding.
Making the Most of Bottle-Feeding
1. Expressing – Try out different methods until you find the right one for you; your first decision is if you should go for a manual or battery-powered/electric pump. Most manual and battery-powered pumps will only work on one breast at a time, but some electric varieties do provide a double pump option. Try to practice mindfulness when pumping to make the experience a positive one. You might even want to reward yourself with a little treat each time you pump to create positive associations.
2. Buying formulas – The formula aisle can be pretty overwhelming. You need to decide if you want a ready-to-use, liquid concentrate, or powdered formula. Ready-to-use is convenient – you just open in up and serve! But it is generally more costly than other formulas and has a very short life span. Liquid concentrate must be measured and mixed with water; it’s easy to prepare but also a little pricey. Powdered formula is definitely the most economically friendly, it lasts longer, and can be made-to-measure. In terms of vitamin and mineral content – babies who aren’t exclusively breastfed should be given iron-fortified formula until their first birthday to avoid deficiency.
3. Donor milk – ‘wet-nursing’ and milk-sharing is something that many women have made use of for most of human history. In this digital age, finding the right donor for you and your family has become a lot faster and much simpler. Milk banks* have a safe, standardized system of screening donors and collecting milk. You can also seek out your own donors for a more personal experience. There’s no doubt that this can be a risky business, so take as many measures as you see necessary to obtain the safest milk for your baby.
Whatever feeding choices you make, try not to compare them to others. Every motherhood journey is different, but all moms should feel confident and as amazing as possible, as you build the happiest and healthiest lives for you and your baby.