5 fascinating facts about breast milk and the breastfeeding process
As we commemorate World Breastfeeding Week, here are five fascinating facts that reinforce how important breastfeeding is for both mother and baby.
- Breast milk changes as the baby grows
Breast milk changes according to the needs of the growing baby. In the first few days, it is called colostrum, which is more yellow in colour and thicker in consistency. It helps baby learn to suck.
Three to five days after birth, the milk begins to change. It becomes whiter and thinner, until it becomes what is sometimes called “mature milk,” usually during the second week after the baby’s birth.
In addition, according to the KidsHealth.org website, breast milk may have slight variations in taste, depending on foods the mother eats. Some say this gets baby ready to recognise the flavours of its culture.
- Breast milk helps prevent disease in infants
Breast milk is an indispensable food packed with all essential nutrients and vitamins. It contains everything a baby needs up to thrive during the first six months of life. According to information from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), breast milk reduces the chances of baby contracting a wide array of illnesses, including leukaemia, sudden infant death syndrome, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, gastrointestinal and respiratory infections, allergies, high blood pressure and high cholesterol.
In addition, breastfeeding in the first months has shown to result in higher IQ scores in children and fosters better long-term cognitive development.
- Breastfeeding prevents illnesses in the mother and helps her to recover
According to the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations), breastfeeding helps mothers from having hemorrhages because the oxytocin released during breastfeeding contracts the uterus. In addition, according to PAHO (Pan American Health Organisation), it helps reduce the risk of ovarian cancer, breast cancer, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, heart attacks, anaemia and osteoporosis.
It also helps moms regain their pre-pregnancy shape more quickly, due to the high caloric expenditure moms experience during breastfeeding. It shrinks the uterus and improves muscle tone.
- Breast milk production increases proportionally to baby’s demand
When the baby suckles, it stimulates the mother’s anterior pituitary gland, which produces oxytocin and prolactin, which influence milk secretion. Therefore, the more stimulation the mother has from baby, the more milk she can produce. Therefore, when a mother does not produce enough milk, it is recommended she nurse the baby more frequently.
According to the FAO document “Human Nutrition in the Developing World,” the amount of milk produced by mothers increases from 100 to 200 ml on the third day after birth, and from 400 to 500 ml 10 days after baby is born.
- Breast milk bolsters the baby’s immune system
Without a doubt, breast milk is an essential food for baby. In addition to providing them with all the necessary nutrients, it helps baby’s immune system to develop more fully.
According to the FAO, breast milk has antibodies and immunoglobulins, which prevent infections; living cells, such as white blood cells, which help fight viruses; and a carbohydrate called Bifidus factor, which helps generate good bacteria, such as lactobacilli, which proliferate in the baby’s stomach and help prevent the growth of pathogens.