7 surprising facts you might not know about breastfeeding
If you’ve decided to breastfeed your baby, you probably already know it brings with it some amazing health benefits for both you and your little one.
Breast milk is often nicknamed liquid gold and there’s good reasons for that – it is not just a complete food which gives your baby everything they need for the first six months – it is also able to adapt and change as your infant develops and grows.
Here are our favourite fascinating facts about breastfeeding:
1. It helps your baby fight off illness
Breastmilk is full of nutrients and antibodies and colostrum – the thick, sticky first milk you produce after birth – is so packed with illness-busting secretory immunoglobulin A (SIgA) that it almost works like a vaccination to support your newborn’s immune system in the first few weeks of their life. SIgA coats your baby’s gut and respiratory tract, stopping bacteria and pathogens from getting in.
As your baby grows, the consistency and content of breast milk changes but it still contains lots of antibodies to ward off illness. But it is much cleverer than simply being extremely nutritious. Experts believe that when a baby is poorly, their mother’s body picks up on this through their saliva and starts producing milk with higher levels of the specific antibody needed to fight that illness. So in effect, your body is able to diagnose and treat many of your baby’s bugs and sniffles without you even realising.
2. It responds to demand
One of the main reasons health professionals recommend breastfeeding on demand rather than to a strict feeding schedule is that your body will respond to what your baby needs. If they are going through a growth spurt and feeding very regularly, your breasts will start producing more milk to cope with the demand. This is also why your breasts can feel very full if you’re away from your baby or they suddenly go off their feeds. Your body anticipates how much your baby will need based on their recent feeding behaviours.
3. Breastmilk contains hormones which encourage night-time sleep
There’s a good reason babies often fall asleep on the breast. Your breastmilk contains serotonin - a hormone often associated with happiness – which plays an important role in regulating sleep/wake cycles. Towards the end of the day, mothers produce breastmilk with a higher serotonin content to encourage babies to fall asleep at night.
4. Breastfeeding burns calories
Breastfeeding a baby burns between 400 and 600 calories every day, the equivalent of about an hour of vigorous cycling. This is why you probably feel hungrier than usual while feeding your little one. This may help you to lose your baby weight more quickly but make sure you are eating a healthy balanced diet which can keep up with the demands of feeding your baby. And it does mean you can reach for those treats without any guilt as you’ll soon burn them off.
5. It promotes bonding
Breastfeeding can help you bond with your baby and not just because it means the two of you will have to spend lots of time together. During a feed, your body releases both prolactin and oxytocin, hormones which reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and help lift your mood. Oxytocin is sometimes nicknamed the love hormone as it plays an important part in building relationships and can help you feel more loving, trusting and empathetic.
6. Your baby can smell your specific milk
Your child has a very well-developed sense of smell and can recognise the scent of your breastmilk, even if you’re in a room full of other breastfeeding mums.
7. Breastfeeding lowers the risk of illness – for both of you
We’ve already mentioned that the antibodies in breast milk help your baby fight off illness and research has found that breastfed infants are at a lower risk of developing ear infections, respiratory infections, gastroenteritis and necrotizing enterocolitis.
But the health benefits aren’t just restricted to your baby. The longer you feed your baby for, the more protection you will receive against a number of serious illnesses including breast cancer, ovarian cancer, stroke, heart disease and type-2 diabetes.
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