Breastfeeding is one of the most natural ways a mother can care for her baby. Even still, some people are uncomfortable with it and shame mothers for feeding their children in public. In some cases, moms who breastfeed are discriminated against.
These negative attitudes toward breastfeeding need to change.
August 1-7 is World Breastfeeding Week, meant to increase awareness and visibility of mothers feeding their babies in this way. We at A Plus are proud to celebrate this week and support women all over the world who should be able to feed their children without shame.
Humans are mammals who have been breastfeeding their babies throughout their entire evolutionary history, so it can be easy to lose sight of how amazing it actually is that mothers are able to produce and deliver the perfect food for their newborns.
Here are 5 of the most incredible facts about breastfeeding:
1. A mother's milk is as unique as a fingerprint.
Breastmilk is an incredible blend of fats, sugars, vitamins, antibodies, proteins, minerals, and beneficial bacteria that help the baby get the best possible start in life. While all women create the same rough balance of nutrients, the exact composition of the milk is highly unique.
The breastmilk 'recipe' is unique to each woman because it is shaped by the mother's immune system, lifestyle factors (like smoking or activity levels), and especially diet, which can change the taste of the milk.
In fact, research has shown that babies start to develop food preferences while still in the womb and can recognize familiar tastes when breastfeeding, which is a good incentive to chow down on lots of veggies so they stand a better chance at liking them later in life.
2. The milk is dynamic and changes to suit a baby's needs, like when the baby is sick.
Unlike that gallon of homogenized, pasteurized milk sitting in your fridge, breastmilk is dynamic and can actually change to suit the baby's needs.
Mothers make a substance called colostrum for the first few days after giving birth before switching over to regular breastmilk. This takes it easy on infant's newly up-and-running digestive system, by providing a lot of nutrients in a small volume of milk. Colostrum also provides a huge amount of immune cells, which help protect the baby.
Milk is considered fully mature after about a month, but it still responds to the baby's needs. There is even speculation that the breast may get "backwash" milk during feedings and can detect when a baby has an infection, which could explain why breastmilk provides more immune cells when the baby is sick.
3. Even small breasts can make the perfect amount of milk.
Women spend a lot of time worrying for no reason about the size of their boobs, but when it comes down to using them to feed their children, size really doesn't matter.
Breasts will get larger during pregnancy and typically remain that size for as long as they are nursing, but the amount of milk produced isn't really influenced by pre-pregnancy bra size.
Instead, the milk production is guided by the baby's feeding habits. As the baby suckles, it stimulates prolactin receptors in the breasts, telling the body to create more milk.
4. Breastfeeding is a weight loss plan, mood booster, and method of birth control rolled into one.
Many women are eager to shed the extra weight after giving birth, but cutting calories could reduce how much milk the mom is able to produce. Nursing burns about 300-500 calories each day, which is about the same as running 4 miles at a 10 minute/mile pace.
Nursing also stimulates the production of oxytocin, which is commonly referred to as the "cuddle hormone." Oxytocin is important for shrinking the uterus back down to it's pre-pregnancy size, but it also encourages positive associations with nursing, improving bonding with the baby.
It's important to note that women who breastfeed may still suffer from postpartum depression and should seek treatment immediately.
Breastfeeding also triggers lactational amenorrhea, which essentially acts like a natural birth control that is 98 percent effective. For up to six months after giving birth, nursing will prevent the mother from having a period and prevent pregnancy with the same level of effectiveness of taking birth control pills. For some women, this effect could even last up to a year.
5. Breastfeeding could save the lives of 800,000 children each year.
Breastfeeding provides babies with the perfect amount of food that doesn't need to be shipped, stored, warmed, or paid for, making it economical and eco-friendly. Even better, it has the potential to save the lives of over 800,000 children each year, the vast majority of whom are younger than 6 months.
In order to save that many lives, nearly all new mothers around the world would have to breastfeed. Not only does breastfeeding make sure they have the proper nutrients, but the immunity they gain from their mother's milk helps protect them against diseases.
Currently, the worldwide rate of breastfeeding is around 37 percent, which means there is a lot of work to do in making it more universal. One of the biggest things society can do to improve that number is to become advocates and offer support and resources to women who are nursing.
Take part in World Breastfeeding Week by posting on social media using #WBW2016 and either posting a selfie while breastfeeding or standing in solidarity with those who have, speaking out against discrimination.
Let's all work together to normalize breastfeeding and allow mothers to feed their babies in peace.
Cover image: Shutterstock