In this 2016 TED talk, lactation researcher Katie Hinde talks about how breastfeeding has not been a research priority (more studies are done on coffee, wine or tomatoes than on human breast milk!) - but it feels like we’re learning new facts about breastfeeding all the time.
What concerns Child.org is that the information we do have about breastfeeding and breast milk is not being shared equally. To illustrate this, here are two different lists, compiled by our team...
Five completely amazing facts you might not know about breastfeeding
- When a woman breastfeeds, scientists now believe that her baby’s saliva is absorbed back into her breast, providing the mum’s body with information about the baby’s health. Her milk then adjusts accordingly - for example if baby has a cold, the amount of infection-busting cells in the mother’s milk increase.
- The makeup of your breast milk might be different depending on your baby’s sex. Working with rhesus monkeys, Hinde found that that mothers make more milk if their infant is female, but milk richer in fat for male offspring. (She saw similar sex differences when she investigated lactation records of more than a million cows!)
- Breast milk could help regulate your baby’s sleep. Sleep hormones in the milk (melatonin and tryptophan) vary at different points during the day. A 2016 study found that melatonin levels were, on average, nearly five times higher in milk produced at night.
- In 2007, scientists discovered that human breast milk contains stem cells. Stem cells are the building blocks of life and can turn into a broad variety of tissues. In a lab dish, scientists have manipulated stem cells extracted from human breast milk to grow into organ-like blobs with spherical endings, almost like nipples. These organoids could even produce milk.
- Delaying baths for newborns could increase rates of breastfeeding. A study in January 2019 found that babies who were bathed right after birth were less likely to exclusively breastfeed.
Five completely vital breastfeeding facts that many mums in rural Kenya do not have access to
- It is not healthier to wean your baby as early as possible. Many mums believe they need to provide food for their baby as soon as possible to help them grow stronger. This isn’t true, babies should be exclusively breastfed for the first six months, and to stop early can cause malnutrition.
- Breastfeeding babies do not need to drink water. Many mums believe their baby should also drink water. But this can put babies at risk of diarrhoea and malnutrition. Water may not be clean and cause the baby to have infections. Giving a baby water may also cause them to drink less breastmilk or to stop breastfeeding early. If mothers give water instead of breastfeeding it can also affect their supply of milk.
- The best way to position your baby for ease of latching on and feeding. This is simple advice afforded to all mums in the UK, which Donata (see video below) in particular said she’d have liked to know about.
- How to hand-express and store breast milk safely. If a mum has to return to work very quickly, it is vital for her to know how to hand-express milk, so her baby can be fed even if she is not around.
- What to do when breastfeeding is tough. It’s so common for a mum to experience problems breastfeeding. Her baby may have tongue-tie, like Sarah’s twins, or, like Donata, she might have mastitis. Without a pregnancy support group or other source of support, some of these mums have noone to turn to.
When we interviewed Donata in rural Kenya about her experience of motherhood she told us about breastfeeding. She had difficulties feeding her baby, but had no source of advice. Donata believes that new mums in her community should be provided with that advice:
The information that we, as humans, have about our health is not being shared around. By joining Team Mum, you can help us address this inequality.
Imagine working out for yourself how to breastfeed, with noone to ask questions if complications arise. In Donata’s community, accessing the internet briefly can cost the same as your daily food budget. Health clinics are hours away by foot and community care is inconsistent and scarce at best.
Donate now to join Team Mum and launch pregnancy support groups in Donata’s community. Give before 30 April and your donation will be matched by the UK government.
Go further, join Team Mum Monthly
Give monthly to Team Mum and support more mums, empowering whole communities to make pregnancy, birth and early childhood safer.
If you sign up before 30 April, your first three monthly donations will be doubled by the UK government.