11 Amazing facts about breastmilk that you may not know

1) Your breast milk is LIVE!

Just like human blood, breast milk is a living fluid containing a range of germ killing substances, healthy bacteria, antibodies, white blood cells, antimicrobials and cell wall protectors and proteins that offer protection against bacteria and viruses.

The live bacteria in Breast milk influences your baby’s gut health – exclusive breastfeeding (NOTHING other than breastmilk) will colonise your baby’s gut with healthy bacteria that may have life long benefits by helping develop resilience against conditions such as diabetes, obesity and metabolic syndrome.

If you catch a bug, specialised white blood cells will appear in your breast milk to protect your baby. Conversely, if your baby becomes sick, the transfer of germs from baby to your breast will trigger the production of specific antibodies. These antibodies will be deposited into your milk to boost your baby’s immunity and help her fight off illness. Substances in your breast milk will also enhance the development of your baby’s immature immune system.

And, you don’t need a lot of breast milk to help your baby stay healthy – according to a report by the Iowa Extension Service, every teaspoon of breast milk has 3,000,000 germ killing cells in it; so if a baby gets even one tsp. a day, it is very valuable!

2) Kissing your baby will change your breast milk

That irresistible urge to plant kisses all over your baby will also help to boost her immune system: when you kiss your baby, you are sampling the pathogens on her skin which are then transferred to your lymphatic system where you will produce antibodies to any bugs. These antibodies will then pass through your breast milk to your baby and boost her immune system.

3) Breast milk changes during a feed

The fat content of your breast milk changes throughout a feed and your baby can regulate this by his sucking – as long as you allow your baby to feed as long and as often as he needs. When your baby is thirsty and begins to suck he will firstly get the more ‘watery’ foremilk to quench his thirst, as the feed goes on, he will stimulate your letdown reflex. As your milk ‘lets down’ this reflex will be squeezing the higher fat milk or ‘hind milk’ down to your baby to meet his energy needs. This doesn’t mean there are two types of milk: consider how, when you have a cold tap running and you turn on the hot tap, the water gradually mixes from cool to warm. This is a similar process as the higher fat milk is made available to your baby throughout the feed.  This means that your baby can control the kind of milk he needs at each feed through the kind of sucking he uses, as well as how long he feeds.

4) Breast milk changes as your baby grows

 The composition of breast milk not only changes during a single feed but nutrients, including macronutrients, and immune factor concentrations change according to the age and development of your baby, providing the perfect food for your baby as he grows from birth through starting family foods and becoming mobile to weaning.

For instance, studies show that the milk of mothers who have premature babies contained more calories, a greater fat concentration, more protein, sodium and secretory IgA (sIgA) than the milk of newborn term mothers. And however long you breastfeed, your milk will not ‘lose it’s goodness’ – some immune factors actually become more concentrated during the second year of life, right when your baby becomes mobile enough to play with other children and is exposed to a greater array of bugs!

5) Breast milk is different at night- time

Consider, your day and night milk have different components: studies by researchers in Spain have found higher levels of neucleotides (proteins) that stimulate GABA, a sleep inducing neurotransmitter and melatonin. Evening breast milk is also rich in tryptophan, a sleep inducing amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin as well as amino acids that promote serotonin synthesis. Seratonin is a vital hormone for brain function and development that makes the brain work better, keeps one in a good mood and helps with sleep cycles. Recent studies conclude that ingestion of tryptophan in infancy leads to more serotonin development, so as long as your baby needs night feeds, be reassured, you are supporting his potential for life long well-being.

6) Your diet can influence the composition of your breast milk

Although the nutrient stores you have laid down during pregnancy will mean that your milk is nutritious and balanced for all of your baby’s needs, there is evidence that some nutrients will be influenced by your own diet. For instance, the proportion of different fatty acids, some vitamins and elements such as selenium and iodine vary according to levels in your own diet. Further research has linked ratios of fatty acids in mother’s milk and her baby’s tendency to develop certain allergies. Other studies report that levels of omega three fatty acids in mothers’ diets are not only linked with healthy neural development and sleep patterns in babies as well as boosting immunity strengthening properties of breast milk.

The best advice for a diet that supports breastfeeding is to eat meals and snacks at regular intervals through the day and to include a wide variety of natural foods so you are not only boosting nutrients in your breast milk but you are maintaining your own health and not becoming depleted as your baby gets ‘first dibs’ on your stores.

7) The Taste of Breast milk changes according to your diet

Its thought that exclusive breastfeeding could make your baby a less fussy eater when he starts eating family foods because the flavours of foods you eat will influence the taste of your breast milk, familiarising your baby with these flavours. It has also been shown that babies love the taste of vanilla, garlic and cinnamon flavoured breast milk (when mothers eat foods with these flavours) so may empty your breasts more effectively, enhancing milk production.

For the most effective tips to boost your breast milk supply, download our FREE ebook ‘Making More Mummy Milk,Naturally’ by Pinky McKay, IBCLC Lactation Consultant

8) Breast milk is different for boys and girls

Recent research shows that breast milk may be different for boys and girls and depending on the levels of safety and income in the family, this can influence the composition of breast milk and which gender is favoured.Tests on mothers’ milk have shown that levels of fat, protein, vitamins, sugars, minerals and hormones vary enormously, but there is evidence that milk made for female and male babies in both humans and other mammals is consistently different.

Katie Hinde, an assistant professor in human evolutionary biology at Harvard University has found higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that regulates metabolism, in rhesus macaque milk for male infants. Whether this translates to differences in human milk composition between mothers of boy and girl babies or not, Hinde’s work shows that milk differences could change infant behaviour and might affect growth and development.She has hypothesised that different milk components of mothers with boy or girl babies could be influenced by differences in mother’s interactions with their babies; variations of breastfeeding patterns between boy and girl babies that could alter the composition of breast milk; and also whether hormonal signals from the developing foetus could play a part.

9) Breast milk contains stem cells

Stem cells are passed from mother to baby in breast milk and help boost immunity. Dr Foteini Kakulas of The University of Western Australia has demonstrated that stem cells from breast milk can now be directed to become other body cell types such as bone, fat, liver and brain cells.

10) Breast milk can kill cancer cells

Studies into the antibacterial agents of mother’s milk reveal that not only does breast milk kill bacteria, your magic mother’s milk can kill 40 different types of cancer cells. It’s all about a protein in breast milk, ‘Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells’ (known as HAMLET ). HAMLET was recently tested on patients who had bladder cancer by Swedish researchers from the University of Lund. After each treatment, the patients’ urine was tested to reveal that the dead cancer cells were excreted and HAMLET did not affect healthy cells.

11) Breast milk can neutralise HIV

Antibodies that help to stop the HIV virus have been found in breast milk. In an effort to lean why only one in 10 HIV infected breastfeeding mothers were passing the virus to their babies when babies are exposed multiple times a day, Researchers at Duke University Medical Center isolated the antibodies from immune cells in the breast milk of infected mothers in Malawi. , They showed that the B cells in breast milk can generate neutralizing antibodies that may inhibit the virus that causes AIDS.