It’s world breastfeeding week, so naturally, we wanted to take a minute to talk about breastfeeding’s many benefits for both mom and baby. For many women, breastfeeding is a really positive experience; but for many others, it can be less than positive, and sometimes, not possible.
We’re big believers in Fed Is Best, and ultimately, having baby close to you for those multiple daily feedings offers important bonding moments, regardless of whether you’re nursing or formula feeding. But in honor of World Breastfeeding Week, we want to highlight the power of breastmilk for your growing baby.
Benefits of Breastmilk for Baby
1. Healthy digestive development
Right after you gave birth, you probably noticed your breastmilk was a thick, sticky, yellowish substance — called colostrum. This is like a “pre-milk” that your mammary glands produce for the first few days before they start making normal breastmilk. Even if you’re choosing not to breastfeed, doctors recommend that you try to get your baby to drink some, due to its role of aiding baby’s early digestion.
It’s low in fat but high in carbs and protein, making it gentle on your newborn’s tummy, and it provides a strong dose of nutrients, antibodies, and calories that kick-start growth and help build baby’s immune system. And because your baby’s digestive system is still developing, the colostrum will help promote good digestive health right from the start.
2. Round-the-clock growth
You’ll be shocked at how quickly your baby grows out of your favorite onesies, and you’ll have the lactose in your breastmilk to thank for it! Lactose is the main carbohydrate in breastmilk, and it’s a major source of calories and energy that fuel your baby’s growth. After the first few days of colostrum, your breasts will feel firmer (this can be the painful part) as your milk matures. This milk is rich in essential vitamins and minerals that help baby develop.
Mature breastmilk contains a laundry list of good-for-growth stuff: sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, Vitamins A, C, and E, and long-chain fatty acids like DHA (an omega-3) and AA (an omega-6). So when people say breastmilk is like a magic elixir for your baby, they’re right… it contains literally everything they need!
3. Better sleep patterns
Along with a host of vitamins and minerals, your breastmilk also provides baby with your own hormones, including those that regulate your sleep patterns. So before your baby even has a concept of a day and night, your hormones will be teaching them when it’s time to sleep and wake up–which is pretty crazy!
Let’s take a quick look at the science: When the sun goes down, melatonin is released into your bloodstream and tells your body that it’s time to sleep. Your melatonin levels stay high throughout the night and drop again in the morning, making you feel alert and awake. Your baby will take on your same melatonin levels depending on what time of day you feed them — so if you feed at night, they’ll ingest higher melatonin levels, telling their bodies that it’s time to get back to sleep, too.
4. Strengthened immune system
One of the most impressive qualities of breastmilk? It can actually adapt its immunological composition and act almost like medicine that targets infections that baby might have.
Here’s how it works: when your baby sucks on your breast, it creates a vacuum, and your nipple pulls in some of your baby’s saliva. The receptors in your mammary gland can detect if any pathogens are present–and if there are, they’ll produce antibodies to fight them off. These new antibodies are released into your breastmilk supply and travel right back into your baby’s body, helping them heal and recover! Isn’t that so cool?
Breastfeeding will help your baby’s health long term, too–long after you ween baby off! Studies have shown that it reduces your baby’s risk of developing asthma and allergies later in life. Your milk is pretty powerful stuff.
5. Promoted brain development
If you’re planning on nursing, it’s a good idea to start earlier than later, as that’s been shown to be linked to more grey matter production in baby’s brain. Here’s a quick refresher from those high school anatomy classes: the brain is made up of two types of matter: grey and white. Grey matter is made up of cell bodies, and this is where actual processing and thinking happens. White matter is made up of the axons that connect the cell bodies, so it allows communication between different parts of the brain.
Studies have shown that early breastfeeding leads to more grey matter, boosting brain development and helping baby process thoughts more quickly! And while studies are still being done in this area, all that grey matter may pay off later in life, because breastfeeding has been linked to higher IQ scores in adolescents.
Be sure to check back later during World Breastfeeding Week for how nursing benefits moms too!
Want stage-specific updates on baby’s healthy development? Download out our free ios app!