Tuesday, 5 June 2012

Mighty Milk: the brilliance of breastmilk

This is my first of four posts for the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt.  By taking part you can win a range of goodies and be entered into the grand prize for over £500 of goodies that would be loved by any breastfeeding mum.  At the bottom of this post you can also enter to win a Baby Beads necklace which are brilliant if you are breastfeeding, formula feeding or just like jewellery.

This post was going to be about the benefits of breastfeeding, but that discussion is often seen as criticising parents who use formula.  I have shared my views many many times before: breastfeeding is always best for baby, but not always best for the mum.  I think breastfeeding is amazing though and one aspect in particular fascinates me: breastmilk.  So this post is all about the benefits of breastmilk.

Breastmilk is brilliant.  I mean it; it's seriously fabulous stuff.  I am in awe that my body can create something so utterly fantastic.  I don't know why, after all I managed to create a beautiful little girl in 9 months.  I guess it's because everyone knows where babies come from, but not nearly enough people know about the wonders of breastmilk.

So what's so amazing?

It's free.  While there are lots of items that might make breastfeeding more comfortable the only thing required is a breast (you don't even need 2).

It comes in a nearly unlimited supply (genuinely not being able to make enough to feed your baby is very rare and is often due to poor latch, positioning, feeding to schedule or a misunderstanding about the signs of if a baby is getting enough).  Milk is produced on a supply and demand process. The more the baby feeds the more milk is produced.  If supply has reduced due to occasional nursing baby can feed lots in a short space of time to increase the amount available to them (cluster feeding).

It's adaptable.  Starting off in a small amount of concentrated goodness in the first few days it goes on to change to a child's needs as they grow.  It even changes during the course of a feed: starting with foremilk, often described as a 'thirst quencher' and gradually getting fattier (hindmilk).  Breastmilk from a mother who has been nursing for longer (eg over a year when the baby nurses less often) has higher fat content than a new mum's milk. I've heard it said that the consistency also changes with the weather: with more foremilk being available on hotter days to keep baby rehydrated.

It is brilliant food.  Because human breastmilk has been designed specifically for human babies it provides exactly what they need to be the exclusive food source for at least 6 months, the main food source for the first year and complementary food for several more years.  Breastmilk is quickly digested and easily absorbed into the blood this is one of the reasons exclusively breastfed babies are rarely constipated.

A mother's body provides nutrition to breastmilk before it uses it itself. Even if a mum doesn't have a healthy balanced diet the baby will still get one.  In fact the mum could become malnourished and still provide the baby what they need to be healthy.  If the mother doesn't eat a balanced diet a multi-vitamin may benefit them.

Breastmilk contains antibodies and other things that help keep babies healthy.  No mum likes to see her baby unwell and I love knowing that I can help get my baby get well faster. Babies immune system aren't fully developed until about 2 years old so breastmilk gives them a helping hand to stay well or fight illnesses.  Babies that are breastfed have lower rates of illness even after weaning from breastfeeding.

Any breastfeeding mother will know of the wonderful healing power of giving baby a feed if they are in pain, and whilst this is partly due to the sucking and closeness to mum it is also due to the breastmilk. Even if there wasn't research to support the analgesic nature of breastmilk I would be convinced after breastfeeding my daughter during her immunisations and seeing the wonders of a breastmilk ice lolly while teething.

Babies that are breastfed have been found to have higher IQs on average than babies who were formula fed.  This is likely to be due to the mighty breastmilk rather than the process of breastfeeding itself (although the scientist in me does wonder if this is a correlation rather than direct cause and effect). The longer the child is breastfed the more significant the impact on intelligence.

Beyond Baby

The benefits of breastmilk can be achieved whether it is fresh from the boob or expressed and stored this means it can benefit people of any age.  As an aside it can last a surprisingly long time in the fridge and can be frozen. In addition to the benefits above a quick search on the internet finds mums who have used breastmilk for a whole range of uses by direct application of the milk rather than drinking it. Suggestions include treating: ear infections, eye infections, mouth ulcers, cracked nipples, insect bites, nappy rash, dry skin, scratches, burns, chicken pox, cradle cap and blocked noses.

It's anti-bacterial and sterile qualities mean it has also been used as make up remover, facial cleanser, emergency contact lens solution, wound cleaning and sexual lubricant(!!!).

Recent research has found that "B cells" in breastmilk can produce antibodies that inhibit HIV cells.  It makes you wonder just what else this magic liquid might be able to do...

Due to being the main carer of a small child I haven't got the time to find and link to evidence for all the statements above. If I haven't commented on the origin of the claim it is evidence based and I could dig out the research if required.  Lots of useful links are on kelly mom: http://kellymom.com/pregnancy/bf-prep/bf-benefits/ . Please email me if you want more information.

The Competitions

If you want to hear more thoughts about the benefits of breastfeeding read some of these other blogs taking part in the Keep Britain Breastfeeding Scavenger Hunt:

Twinkle Mummy
Diary of a First Child
Life Happens So Smile
My Mummy's Pennies
Attachment Mummy

Check out www.babybeads.co.uk to decide which necklace you would like to win and to see their other great products.

To be in for a chance of winning a Baby Beads necklace simply enter via the rafflecopter widget below and add a comment to this post.  Entering this competition will also give you points towards winning the Scavenger Hunt Grand Prize (you need 50 to be in for a chance to win).

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. I love bfing as it was easy, well, eventually and meant I could always feed or comfort my little one without having to remember 'stuff.

  2. Great post, I've got some that's been in the freezer a bit too long and I'm going to try making some soap with it or something as I can't bear to throw it away. One of the amazing things I read is that it contains specific growth hormones that help the gut and the thymus gland (amongst other things) to grow and develop properly; therefore a baby that had not recieved breast milk has a thymus gland half the size of a breastfed baby. Amazing stuff!

  3. My favourite benefit is the comfort it provides my little one. It is also the connection to me she needs...now she is walking she loves exploring but every so often she just runs back to me...to jump on my lap and have a quick feed...and then is back on her adventures :-)

  4. I think the biggest benefit for me is the time, I don't have to prepare formula, so have time for more sleep in the night, have more time to play with my older daughter even though I am feeding her baby brother.

  5. My favourite breastfeeding benefit is knowing that when my babies are ill, I know that I am directly helping them feel better by providing them with the best nutritional medicine in the world!

  6. I love breastfeeding too. I love that it gives me a chance to sit down! And that baby is getting comfort as well as nutrition.

  7. I love knowing I am doing the best for my babies @MummyFever

  8. Breast milk really is great isn't it! Not having to get up and make formula in the middle of the night is definately a bonus

  9. The bonding is truly magical!!! Nature is a fabulous thing! What a wonder! :)

  10. oohh, never heard of breast milk ice lollies , what a fantastic idea!
    It's such great stuff - I have used for gunky eyes on all 3 babies and it worked wonders.

  11. I'd love a necklace because Sophia has just got to that stage where she's fiddling when she's feeding, and I can't find my old b/f necklace anywhere!!!

  12. fab post - breastfeeding cuddles are the best! xx

  13. I love all of the nutrition and benefits you are giving to your little one and also yourself but i have to say i just love that special time you get together and i cant wait till bump decides to arrive so i can experience all of it all over again. So amazing :)

  14. I actually have a necklace for myself from BabyBeads but my friend is pregnant right now and I would love to give her one as a present.
    I do love that when I am feeding, I have the perfect excuse to sit down with a cuppa and cuddle my cheeky milk monster whilst catching up with Corrie :D

  15. I would love a Baby Beads Breastfeeding Necklace as I'm a first time Mum to be and looking forward to breastfeeding but also a little worried that things might not go to plan or even what to expect! I've only recently found out such things exist and think they are a fab idea.

  16. My favourite benefit is the bond that it'll help develop between me and baby, I'm 37 weeks pregnant and can't wait to start breastfeeding


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