10 Things I Didn't Know About Breastfeeding

When I had my first baby in 2010 I knew nothing about breastfeeding. In fact, I knew nothing about babies. Whilst I couldn't escape the baby bit though, I did opt not to breastfeed. This isn't a post about why I didn't breastfeed Seb, but mainly it was down to not being aware of the reasons that I should, and not being aware of the risks associated with formula feeding.
Once Seb was born I made a lot of new friends, and amongst my new "Mummy Friends" were a number of breastfeeding Mums. Over the five years between Seb's birth and Quinn's birth I learned a lot about breastfeeding and human breast milk, and I've learned even more over the past eight months of my own breastfeeding experience.
Here are just ten of the totally awesome things I've learned about breast milk.
  1. Breast milk is alive. Unlike formula milk, which is a non active substance, breast milk (from all mammalian species) is full of live ingredients which help to keep babies healthy, and aids their development.
  2. Mother's bodies can "read" their baby's saliva. Breastfeeding research suggests that when a child is feeding at the breast, their mouth forms a vacuum, and their saliva enters the nipple during the feed. The Mother's body can then recognise any germs or allergens that the child may need protection from, and will tailor the next feed with specific antibodies.
  3. Breastfed babies don't "get sick less often". When I formula fed my first baby I heard a lot of "Breast Is Best" messages, which I managed to tune out, or complain about. One of the ideas that seemed to be banded about was that breast milk protects babies from getting poorly. Unsurprisingly, in my experience, this has always been met with objection, with people on both sides of the fence knowing breastfed babies who are always ill, and super healthy formula fed babies. It turns out though that I, and a lot of other people, had misunderstood the science being referenced. How prone a child is to picking up common illnesses is probably genetic, and has nothing to do with feeding methods. Some children will get poorly often, some, hardly ever. Even luck may play a small role here. Human breast milk, and the act of breastfeeding, is designed to help babies to get the right antibodies to fight the illnesses they encounter, and to build a future immunity to those illnesses. Breast milk won't prevent a child from getting sick, but will take a large amount of strain off of the child's own system in fighting the germs. Formula however, weakens a child's immune system, making them more likely to catch illnesses. It may still be that a child has a great genetic immunity to common illnesses, and therefore, will typically avoid most colds and snuffles, however, they'll still be unwell more often over the first seven years of their life than they would be if they were breastfed, and will have a weaker immunity to those particular illnesses later in life.
  4. Breastfeeding Mums are less likely to suffer from PND. Again, breast milk isn't some miracle cure here. Breastfeeding Mums do suffer from PND, and if you see someone use the phrase "breastfeeding protects Mother's from PND and PPP" then you're right to flick them on the nipple. Breastfeeding does not protect a woman from suffering post partum mental health problems. Formula feeding however, or feeding donated breast milk, does increase a woman's likelihood of suffering from PND. There are few reasons. In some cases, it may be a direct and obvious cause. Where a woman wants to breastfeed, but is unable to for whatever reason, PND may be tied in to guilt or regret surrounding formula feeding. Formula fed babies are also more likely to suffer from colic, and Mother's of colicky babies are more likely to suffer PND. However, one of the leading relationships between formula feeding and PND is much more complex, and involves the hormones, oxytocin and prolactin in particular, that are associated with breastfeeding. A Mother's body which knows it has given birth, and knows that it is not breastfeeding a baby, may result in a brain that believes it has lost it's baby, thus entering a depressive state. This makes a lot of sense when you consider some of the most common symptoms of PND, which include anxiety surrounding a baby's safety and health, and panic about being separated from a baby, as well as doubting one's ability as a Mother.
  5. Nipples smell like amniotic fluid. It's unlikely that any breastfeeding Mum is able to smell her own nipples, but it's been discovered that the Montgomery glands, the little bumps that are often visible in a ring around the areola, or coloured area of the breast surrounding the nipple, secrete tiny amounts of a fluid which matches the smell of amniotic fluid. This smell is familiar and comforting to babies and helps them to find the nipple when their eye sight is still immature, and also helps them to settle at the breast. This is also one of the reasons that formula fed babies will "root" at the breast, long after a Mother stops producing milk.
  6. Breast milk has more than 200 known components. That's a lot of ingredients, all of them in some way beneficial to a human baby, compared to the 40-ish ingredients in infant formula, some of which, such as modified corn syrup (which believe it or not is the main ingredient in infant formula), aren't useful to a baby and may in fact be detrimental to their long term health (MCS has a strong association with childhood and adult obesity).
  7. Breastfeeding a toddler is beneficial. Before I started breastfeeding I always found breastfeeding a child older than two a somewhat uncomfortable concept. I had friends who breastfed their children beyond three, and I couldn't get my head around it. It's only now that I'm breastfeeding my own child I realise how horrible it would be to actually stop breastfeeding before your baby was ready, and also, I've learned how beneficial breast milk is to a child's health, long after their second birthday. There's this weird idea that breast milk loses it's nutritional value once the recipient reaches a certain age, which is complete nonsense, breast milk would have health benefits for anyone, regardless of age.
  8. Body builders spend a lot of money on breast milk. Tied in to Point 7 - anyone benefits from consuming breast milk, though most humans will naturally cease to feed from their Mother at some point between four and seven years. However - so beneficial is breast milk, even to adults, body builders pay seriously good money for that liquid gold! Who knew?
  9. You CAN'T copy breast milk. When I was a formula feeding Mum I believed the marketing spiel spun by formula manufacturers that formula was the result of decades of research into breast milk, and that formula's were a replication of breast milk somehow. It's only now that I understand what breast milk is, and I know that formula is basically corn syrup and powdered cows milk, that I realise what nonsense this is. No two women make identical breast milk, so there is no one "model" of human breast milk to replicate, and breast milk changes with every single feed to meet a baby's needs, whether that's a fattier milk, a more watery milk, a milk with very specific antibodies in it because the baby licked the window on the train... as a child grows up, breast milk changes and adapts to meet the needs of that child... nothing that you can make in a laboratory with our current technology can do that. Any claim by a formula company to be making a product based on breast milk is basically a cleverly worded lie. It contains the laboratory altered breast milk of another species and that's about as close as you're getting.
  10. Breastfeeding eliminates the risk of some cancers. Following new research, the wording surrounding breastfeeding and breast cancer has changed. It used to be accepted that breastfeeding for a minimum of two years reduces a woman's risk of breast cancer. However, wording has now been approved to state that breast feeding eliminates the risk of non hereditary breast cancer, where other lifestyle factors are removed. That means breastfeeding protects women from breast cancer if they eat well, don't smoke etc. - other than where the cancer is a hereditary disease passed down through genetics.
I'm so glad that I decided to breastfeed my second baby, and I'm also annoyed at myself that I didn't breastfeed my first. It's way too late for guilt, and, fingers crossed, he's doing just fine. However, I now realise that formula wasn't the ideal food for him, considering he had a Mother who was capable of giving him breast milk. Know better, do better though, that's what I have to live by.
I'm really comforted that whilst there's no hereditary breast cancer in my family, I should avoid this horrible, fierce and deadly disease by living healthily, as long as I continue to breastfeed Quinn until her second birthday (ish). Even if you choose not to breastfeed, this alone should be one reason that everyone celebrates and encourages breastfeeding wherever they can, if only to save thousands of lives each year.
I'm proud to breastfeed, very proud to breastfeed. I'm also proud to have raised such a lovely, kind, clever boy in Seb - my formula fed baby. Breast feeding continues to amaze me, and I'm fascinated by the process and the incredible features of breast milk - nature is such a clever thing! I've got super love for all loving, hard working Mamas, however they feed their babies, but I'll never stop being passionate about boobies! 

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