In celebration of World Breastfeeding Week this August, we put together a few fascinating facts about breastfeeding that we hope you will enjoy!
- Colostrum is ‘liquid gold’
During pregnancy your breasts start producing a small amount of milk, ready for the birth of the baby. This early milk is called colostrum, and you may or may not notice little drops of it leaking from your breasts towards the end of your pregnancy. If you’re not, don’t worry, as your body is producing it, even if you can’t see it!
Colostrum is the milk that your baby will have for the first 3 or 4 days before your ‘full milk’ comes in. Not a lot of it is produced, so if you express it into a bottle, don’t worry if you can only see a little of it – this is all your baby needs. Remember that their stomachs are tiny! Colostrum is thick and sticky, it may appear buttery yellow in colour, and it’s full of antibodies. That’s why it’s also nicknamed ‘liquid gold’. The antibodies that colostrum contains provide your baby with protection against infections that mum has built up an immunity to.
- Breast milk is produced on a supply-and-demand basis
In very simplistic terms, the breasts will supply however much milk the baby demands, so the more the baby drinks, the more they will supply, and vice versa. When your milk first comes in, a few days after the birth of your baby, your body will make more than enough milk to feed your baby. In fact, it is said that our bodies make enough milk to feed twins! As most new mums are only feeding one baby, however, the amount of milk they produce slowly adjusts to how much the baby needs. So when the breasts are emptied, they will replenish. And if the baby continues to suckle when the breasts are empty, the baby’s saliva will stimulate breast glands to make more milk. Isn’t it just mind-blowing?
You may choose to feed your baby ‘on demand’, or feed when they are hungry, as opposed to at set and regular intervals. When a baby feeds on demand, this can help mum’s body to regulate her own milk production, and she doesn’t even need to be aware of it!
- Not all breast milk is created equal – foremilk and hind milk
Just like the composition of the very first milk, colostrum, is different to the one of the milk that is produced from 3 to 4 days after the birth, the composition of breast milk also varies during a feed! When the baby first starts feeding, they will be drinking what is referred to as foremilk. Released at the beginning of a feed, foremilk doesn’t contain much fat is almost see-through in appearance and colour. This happens because, while the milk is stored in the breasts, the fat tends to stick further back into the milk ducts.
So the first milk that comes out (foremilk) when the baby first starts feeding isn’t as high in fat content as the milk that the baby drinks as the feed progresses. This milk, more high in fat content is called hind milk and is also a lot thicker and whiter in appearance and colour. You can think about foremilk and hind milk as skimmed cow’s milk and full fat cow’s milk respectively. The first one is less fatty and more ‘transparent’ in appearance, while the latter is thicker, creamier, and whiter in colour. And if you express some breast milk and leave it in a bottle or milk bag in the fridge, you may notice that as the heavy fat deposits towards the bottom of the container, while the liquid-y milk stays at the top – this can give you an idea of what foremilk and hind mind may look like.
Understanding how the fat release in breast milk works is important because it encourages mums to let their baby empty one breast before they move on to the next one. Or, if they come off the breast or fall asleep before they have emptied one side, it’s a good idea to start the next feed from that same breast. This is so that the baby can have access to the fat content of the milk as well. Otherwise, it’s almost as if they only have a glass of water, rather than a full meal. And this is perfectly fine at times, but expect the baby to be hungry again very soon if all they had is a bit of foremilk!
- Breast milk is always perfect for the baby
We’ve talked about how breast milk can change composition from colostrum to ‘full milk’ and how its fat content can also vary within the same feed. But another amazing property of breast milk is that it changes its nutritional profile as the baby grows. So the milk made for a 3 month old baby is different to the one made for the same baby at 9 month of age. Also, during hot days, or when the baby is feeling under the weather, the water content in the milk may also increase, to provide the baby with the much needed additional hydration.
- Breastfeeding at night helps babies sleep
Breast milk contains tryptophan, an amino acid used by the body to make melatonin, a hormone that helps us to induce and regulate sleep. Babies younger than 3 months cannot regulate their own melatonin production, so the tryptophan contained in mum’s milk can be of great help. Plus, the amount of tryptophan contained in breast milk at any given time is regulated by mum’s own internal body clock. When mum breastfeeds at night, because her own melatonin levels are high, she is effectively helping her baby produce melatonin and fall asleep. Isn’t that super-handy for those middle-of-the-night feeds?
So, do you find this as fascinating as we do? How many of these fact did you know about?