Breastmilk is “liquid-gold”! It is the best food you could possibly give your baby. There are so many studies showing how human breastmilk is truly amazing. Not only is breastfeeding better for your baby, it has numerous benefits for you as well.
Human milk is a complex living substance with health-promoting and germ-fighting ingredients. These important benefits help protect babies from illness and infections. One drop of breastmilk contains about one million macrophages (white blood cell) which help kill germs. Breast milk also contains the antibody immunoglobulin A (IgA), which is found in the mucous membranes that line the digestive tract. IgA helps prevent germs from crossing the digestive tract barrier into the bloodstream and helps prevent food allergies. Colostrum, the thick yellowy milk first produced by the mammary glands, has an abundant amount of IgA as well as macrophages and infection-fighting substances compared to mature milk. This is wonderful for the newborns since they are being exposed to the outside world for the fist time and need as much protection as possible. As your baby grows they still receive antibodies from mother to help prevent disease and infection.
One of the greatest things about breast milk is that it is “tailor-made” just for your baby. When your baby nurses their saliva transfers chemicals to your body, which cause the breastmilk to adjust to meet your baby’s needs. For instance when your baby has contracted a new germ your body creates antibodies for that specific germ and sends it over through your breastmilk. If you or your family are sick, the best thing to do for your baby is to breastfeed: baby will usually have the mildest case of the illness or not get sick at all. A perfect example of this was seen by one of my office staff. Both her and her husband contracted Covid-19 while she was breastfeeding, her baby had a low grade fever for one night and then showed no other symptoms after that. Breastfed baby also have fewer and less severe respiratory infections, less ear infections, and helps protect baby from diarrhea and upset tummies. A very fortunate benefit of breastfeeding is that baby’s stools do not smell as bad as formula fed babies(Dad – no excuses! LOL).
There have been many studies that show babies who are breastfed may have higher IQ’s than formula fed babies. The longer the breastfeeding continues, the more I.Q. points. Human milk contains special nutrients that are not found in formula. Breast milk contains linolenic acid, cholesterol, taurine and other substances that enhance the development of the nervous system. Also supplied is DHA, which is a main proponent in the myelin sheath, the insulating layer that forms around nerves (including those in the brain and spinal cord) helping electrical impulses transmit faster. This could be one of the main factors as to why breastfed babies are less likely to have SIDS, and are cognitively advanced. During postmortem examinations of some infants who died of SIDS have shown a deficient myelination. Also breastfed baby do not sleep as deep as formula fed babies which make it more likely for them to wake up if they have issues with their breathing.
Breastfeeding also has numerous benefits for the mother. Nursing may reduce the risk of breast, uterine, and ovarian cancers. The risk of breast cancer is decreased by 25% and the longer you breastfeed the lower the chance of developing cancer. While you are breastfeeding you have lower estrogen levels, this is thought to cause less estrogen stimulation for the breast tissue and uterus which means less likelihood if these tissues becoming cancerous. It can also help with postpartum weight loss, lessens osteoporosis, and helps decrease the chance of postpartum anxiety and depression. Breastfeeding can also act as a natural contraceptive. While breastfeeding your body naturally stops ovulating. This typically only lasts while you are exclusively breastfeeding throughout the day and night, but everyone’s bodies are different so one person could start ovulating sooner than another. Another great benefit is that it is significantly cheaper than formula feeding. You will say around $1,200 in that first year.
In the days following birth, you will be tired, and often the early nursing mechanics of latching, nipple soreness, and milk supply can be a challenge. I encourage you not to give formula but seek help. There are so many resources to aide you in these first few weeks. Having a supportive, knowledgeable doctor is crucial. An encouraging husband and lactation consultant are key. If tongue-tie or lip-tie is present (abnormal frenulums) are best clipped, the earlier the better. This is a tremendous help for latching. For me, seeing Mom succeed is a goal! A great source whether nursing or seeking any information about donor milk is a local lactation consultant. They are a wealth of knowledge for a successful breastfeeding experience. You can also call the Le Leche League group. So good luck – You can do this!! The rewards are great. If nursing isn’t going well, there are many alternatives I would like to discuss (pumping, etc.).
-Dr. Kenneth Akey