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.
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.
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:
Diary of a First Child
Life Happens So Smile
My Mummy's Pennies
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).
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