• Rosie Weston

The Benefits of Breastfeeding

Breast milk is the best form of nutrition for babies. The properties in breast milk help the baby transition from life in utero to life outside of the womb. The milk contains many substances which are critical for the developing brain, immune and gut function of a new born and beyond

Lactation is stimulated by prolactin and oxytocin and inhibited by dopamine. Suckling from the baby produces oxytocin which is also the hormone which makes you feel in love! Milk production is affected by the well-being of mum. Stress and fatigue adversely affect milk supply, so it is profoundly important to look after mum as well as baby.

The nutrients in breast milk change over time as the baby gets older. The early milk or colostrum has lower levels of fat than mature milk but higher concentrations of protein and minerals, this swaps over as the baby gets older.

Breast milk contains: protein, fats, carbohydrates and enzymes specific for digestion. Much of the fat is deposited in the brain for development. After all our brains are 60% fat! And it turns out fat is one of the most crucial substances that determine the brains ability to function and its integrity.

It also contains all the different antibody immune cells specifically sIgA. slgA is used to protect your new born babies gut as their own source of gut immunity doesn’t kick in until later. By breast feeding you are helping to protect your baby against ingested infection.

Breast milk also contains other infection fighting substances like lactoferrin, lysozyme and oligosaccharides which all have their own role in protecting the baby against bacteria. It also contains macrophages which are a specific type of immune cell which gobbles up infections. I like to think of macrophages as the Pacman of our immune system. So, you can see how when breast feeding you are providing so much more than food.

Breastfed babies (min 6 months) may be at a reduced risk for many diseases including gut and urinary tract infections as well as ear infections, eczema and asthma. At around 6 months of age your baby’s intestines become mature and less open to proteins which can potentially cause allergies. It is best to exclusively breastfeed until at least 6 months.

When breastfeeding an additional 200 calories a day should be consumed by mum. You can think of this as an apple with a tablespoon of peanut butter, veggie sticks and hummus or guacamole or a quarter of a cup of mixed nuts. It’s really only one extra snack per day. Do not forgot to up your water intake too!

Obviously, there are times when mums are unable to breastfeed and you shouldn’t feel bad about this if it’s out of your control. There are other good options out there that you can give you baby so that they can still thrive and be that happy healthy baby you always dreamed of.

Donor milk isn’t as scary as it sounds. In fact, donor milk has been round a long time! If we think back to the Victorian times for a second wet nurses were doing just that! Wealthy Victorian women would hire a ‘wet nurse’ who was also breast feeding to feed their baby at the same time.

There are plenty of organisations out there that you can speak to about donor milk. All women have to go through a series of tests first before they are eligible to donate and even after that the milk itself goes through a process of testing.

For more information visit: https://www.breastfeedingnetwork.org.uk/detailed-information/milk-banking/

In terms of formula milk out there its always best to go organic. You ideally want the milk you feed your baby to be as clean as possible. Unfortunately non-organic milk will have traces of pesticides from the farm and the grass the cows ate as well as antibiotics and other medications that were used on the cow. Look for brands with the least number of additives. You really don’t want any forms of ‘sugar’ apart from lactose. So, put anything back that contains rice or glucose syrups, maltodextrin etc.

As we talked about earlier breast milk contains many wonderful properties including a lot of substances to help with baby’s immune system. There are many brands of baby probiotics out there some of my favourites include Optibac for babies and children and Biokult Infantis. The probiotic sachets can be added to room temperature formula.