The beauty of breastfeeding is that there is always something new to learn. It does not matter whether you are a first-time mom, or a mom who has been breastfeeding multiple times – there is always something fresh to discover! Breastmilk is no wonder one of the favorite topics of research worldwide because of its benefits. It looks like no one can wholly unravel all of its advantages in the next couple of years!
The celebration of World Breastfeeding Month, which falls every August of the year, dates back to 1992 as a way to promote breastfeeding awareness and related issues. It hopes to encourage women to go back to the basics, and harness their innate ability to feed their children in a world where formula feeding has become the norm. According to the WHO, breastfeeding is still one of the most effective ways to ensure child health and survival.
Contrary to what most women expect, breastfeeding may not come easy for all mothers. There will be obstacles that we might need to overcome, and from time to time we need to be reminded how beneficial it is to breastfeed. This article is not intended to invalidate the choice of some mothers to formula feed, but rather, this is to increase awareness especially for those who are going to be first-time mothers who are looking forward to breastfeeding their baby.
So why should we consider breastfeeding as our first choice for feeding our babies? Why do we need to do the best that we can to successfully breastfeed? Aside from the usual facts we know about the benefits of breastmilk, here are other benefits that you may not be aware of, just yet!
Do you know that your breastmilk content is not the same all throughout your breastfeeding journey? Breastmilk is still the best source of nutrition for most babies, and it changes along with your baby’s changing needs!
Do you know that breastmilk contains everything your baby needs, in the right proportions? Yes, research has it that your breastmilk content changes along with your baby’s needs as she grows up. This goes to show that breastmilk content is not the same from Day 1 until the time your baby is weaned. This is why formula can never replace breastmilk. Aside from giving the nutrition, your little one needs at the right time, breastmilk is also naturally high in protein and low in sugar content.
Breastmilk is safe, clean, and contains all the energy and nutrients your infant needs. During the first few days of a baby’s life, the breasts produce colostrum, a thick, yellow liquid that is noted to contain the following (per 100ml of colostrum):
5.6 g carbohydrates
2.2 g fat
2.5 g protein
Colostrum is low in fat and carbohydrates and contains high levels of beta carotene. It also has high levels of vitamin E and zinc. During the first week, milk composition changes quickly, especially in terms of fat and lactose concentration, while slowly decreasing in protein, vitamin, and mineral content. Breastmilk reaches a “mature” stage around the 21st day postpartum.
But it doesn’t stop there! Researchers found that total fat content in breastmilk continues to increase after three months postpartum, such that fat content in milk expressed at six months was way even higher than the fat content of milk expressed at three months. Even the fatty acid composition and milk density continue to change as the baby grows. Talk about miracle food? Yes, and you make it, momma!
Even though breastmilk is a wonder food, you might need to supplement Vitamin D in your diet and in your babies’ milk intake.
Vitamin D is not frequently passed through breastmilk – as a matter of fact, human breastmilk is considered an extremely poor source of Vitamin D. Thus, your baby needs to have alternative sources for Vitamin D supplementation.
If you are diligent enough to bring out your baby into the early morning sun every day, then there is no need to fret!
However, sunlight exposure can be limited due to weather conditions, and add into the picture the COVID-19 pandemic – we are all encouraged to stay at home thus sunlight exposure can be a challenge if you are living in condominiums and multi-story apartments.
In this case, you can ask help from your family doctor for a supplement that contains high levels of Vitamin D, for you to take and some multivitamin drops (containing a high dose of Vitamin D) for your baby as well.
During sun exposure, avoid using sunscreen on your baby. To be safe, make sure to expose her to the early morning sunlight, usually at 6am to 7am. Babies with darker skin need more time for sun exposure to naturally produce Vitamin D. Its always the best idea to tap into the sun for a good morning dose of Vitamin D, rather than wholly depending on supplements.
Breastfeeding allows the mother to share her antibodies to her baby.
In the early days of life, having a strong immune system is critical for a newborn’s survival. Though mothers pass on antibodies to their babies while in the womb, breastfeeding allows a continuous supply of these antibodies to fight off viruses and bacteria.
This is particularly abundant in colostrum, the first milk that you produce after giving birth. Colostrum and breastmilk contain antibodies referred to as immunoglobulins. Colostrum specifically contains high levels of secretory immunoglobulin A, which protects the newborn baby through the formation of a protective layer in her nose, throat, and digestive system.
In the event when the mother is exposed to certain viruses and bacteria, she produces more antibodies that can be passed through breastmilk. These antibodies are in the form of immunoglobulin proteins, and breastmilk contains immunoglobulins IgA, IgM, IgG as well as secretory versions of IgM (SIgM) and IgA (SIgA).
And guess what, these antibodies will remain in your baby’s system. Even when the baby is already eating solid foods and actively roaming around the house, these antibodies will continue to fight off germs that will try to infect her.
Aside from that, do you know that mothers who have undergone COVID-19 vaccination are found to pass on antibodies against COVID-19 to their babies? A recent study found high content of SARS-CoV-2 specific IgA and IgG antibodies in breastmilk six weeks after vaccination. SARS-CoV-2 specific IgA antibodies were noted as early as two weeks after vaccination, and a spike in SARS-CoV-2 specific IgG antibodies was noted after four weeks. These findings were consistent with other studies among women with COVID-19 infection. These antibodies found in breastmilk showed strong neutralizing effects against the virus, rendering potential protective effects for the baby.
Breastfeeding decreases the mother’s risk for postpartum depression.
Yes, it is real, and it can happen to anyone. The sudden ghosting of your hormones during pregnancy is responsible for the whirlwind of emotions that you experience right after giving birth. No wonder they call it the “fourth trimester”! These hormonal changes are responsible for your postpartum anxieties and if left unaddressed, can escalate into postpartum depression.
But guess what, studies revealed that breastfeeding was actually found to reduce the risk for postpartum depression, with effects extending up to four months postpartum.
It is very important however to monitor yourself for signs of prenatal depression, as this can affect your breastfeeding journey postpartum.
Breastfeeding decreases the mother’s risk for breast and ovarian cancer, high blood pressure, and type II diabetes.
Breastfeeding is not just greatly beneficial for the baby, but it also highly benefits the mother as well! Aside from decreasing chances for postpartum depression, increasing mother-baby bonding, and helping the mother lose all that pregnancy weight – breastfeeding appears to be linked with a reduced risk for breast and ovarian cancer. Studies show that breastfeeding lowers the risk for invasive epithelial ovarian cancer by 24% and lowers the risk for breast cancer by 4.3%.
And not just that – research shows that breastfeeding ≤12 months/child was associated with a significantly lower risk of hospitalization due to cardiovascular disease. Exclusively breastfeeding for at least more than a month also lowers the risk of the mother for type II diabetes.
The wonders of breastfeeding continue to amaze us, especially in this decade where it is easier and more feasible to conduct long-term research studies. These new findings add up to the current array of breastfeeding benefits such as convenience. Breastfeeding may not be an easy journey for some, but the efforts will be all worth it!
You can visit your family doctor for some advice on how to jumpstart your breastfeeding journey. Ask your spouse and other family members to support you on a decision that will be unquestionably life-changing and fulfilling. The phrase “it takes a village to raise a child” is definitely as real as it can be. Breastfeeding is a journey and makes sure your whole tribe is with you on this!
You got this momma!