Breastmilk is Amazing!
Here we are in the middle of World Breastfeeding Week! As pediatricians, we spend many hours a week discussing infant nutrition. How families choose to feed their babies can take many forms: from breastfeeding, to pumping, to formula feeding, to combinations of some or all of the above - we try our best to help our families find what will work for them, to help their babies grow and thrive. This week I want to spend some time discussing breastfeeding, including the amazing things that breastmilk provides for our babies!
Breastmilk is There From Day 1!
When a baby is born, typically the mother’s body is able to produce everything that baby needs, right away. Often though, when we talk to new moms in the days following the arrival of their new baby, we hear the anxiety and concern that their baby is “not getting enough” and wondering about the need for formula. While there are some cases when health issues for baby or mom may necessitate formula supplementation, in the majority of cases, breastmilk is all that is needed. The early milk, or colostrum (present even before the baby is born) is available in small portions, perfect for baby’s tiny tummy, until about 4-6 days postpartum. This breastmilk is highly concentrated, easily digested, and provides a number of health benefits to baby including important immune factors, and substances that help with digestion (all natural laxatives!).
Breastmilk is Constantly Changing!
After colostrum comes transitional milk, which is what most moms will describe as their milk “coming in” (I like to say that the milk “transitions” - since there was milk “in” the whole time!) and then finally over the next several weeks, mature milk. Breastmilk does not remain static, though. The nutritional content of the milk is constantly changing throughout a mom’s breastfeeding journey, with immunoglobulin and protein content decreasing, and fat and sugar content increasing. The calorie content of the milk increases as the baby grows, meaning the baby is getting higher calorie milk over time even without taking more volume. In fact, most exclusively breastmilk fed babies won’t take more than 5oz in a feed, on average, at any point. Breastmilk’s immune factors are especially interesting. Breastmilk contains antibodies (the molecules that help our bodies attack and fight infection) being produced by mom’s own immune system. When mom is exposed to an infection, her body makes the immune factors specific to that infection, which are then expressed in the breastmilk, and made available to the baby. It’s like an incredibly specific, ready made vaccine!
Breastmilk Sets Us Up for Success!
Research has shown us over time the amazing benefits that are provided by breastmilk and breastfeeding, both for mom and baby. Babies who are fed with breastmilk have a decreased rate of meningitis (an infection of the lining of the brain and spinal cord), ear infections, infections of the gastrointestinal system, and infections of the lungs and respiratory system. Also, while a causative relationship hasn’t yet been established, we know that breastfed babies have a decreased risk for SIDS, obesity, childhood leukemia, and certain autoimmune diseases like diabetes and celiac disease. Breastfeeding also grants benefits to mom! Moms who have breastfed have a lower rate of breast cancer, cardiovascular disease, and high blood pressure, and of course the much talked about benefit: they may get back to their pre-pregnancy weight faster!
Breastmilk and breastfeeding certainly offers many benefits to both mom and baby, and is designed to provide well balanced nutrition and immune support for babies from day one. While breastfeeding is not the perfect choice for all families, during World Breastfeeding Week, we want to say, Breastmilk is Amazing!