I always planned to breastfeed my children, largely because my own mother breastfed my brothers and I when we were babies and talked about the special bond it created. I never considered doing anything else. Armed with an arsenal of facts about breastfeeding and the stories from my mom, I held my 5-pound, 11-ounce daughter up to my naked breast after her birth and realized that I still had no idea what I was doing.
What I assumed would be a natural, easy, and fulfilling experience turned out to be as difficult and exhausting a journey as it was a beautiful one. Like most aspects of motherhood, breastfeeding comes with its own set of challenges, no matter how easily or (or not so easily) it comes.
National Breastfeeding Awareness Month and although parents (and the public in general) have taken huge strides in the right direction to normalize breastfeeding, there is still a lot of work to be done. Stories of mothers being harassed for nursing in public, cases where moms give up nursing too soon because they lacked support, or even hospitals that push formula as the norm to new moms pop up all too often. More than just raising awareness about the importance of breastfeeding, this month is crucial for encouraging people of all genders, ages, races, orientations, and demographics to support breastfeeding, regardless of what they chose to do for their baby.
1 Breastfeeding Moms Sleep More 2 Working Moms Who Breastfeed Miss Less Work
Believe it or not, because of the sickness-fighting benefits of breast milk and the fact that breastfed children get sick less often, a
nursing mom is less likely to call into work, according to data collected by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. 3 Breast Milk Can Come In A Rainbow Of Colors
From light blue to neon pink, and even black, your
breast milk can turn all sorts of colors during your breastfeeding journey and still be perfectly healthy for your baby.
“The important thing to remember when worrying about color changes in your milk is that you only see it if you are expressing your milk. If your baby was latched and nursing, you would never see the color at all, and you would never worry about it,” lactation consultant Rebecca Costello of
tells Romper. “Every day, thousands of babies probably eat ‘funny-colored milk’ without their parents ever even knowing it. And the babies don't notice it, either! So if you see a color change in your milk, take a deep breath and don't stress.” In the Flow Lactation 4 Breastfeeding Can Save Your Family $1,200 to $1,500 Each Year
Although breastfeeding isn't completely free (if you plan to purchase things like nursing bras, a breast pump, bottles, etc.), it's definitely going to save you a bit of cash. The average
amount a breastfeeding family can save from not buying formula is anywhere from $1,200 to $1,500 in the first year, according to the U.S. Surgeon General. 5 Most Babies Around The World Will Receive At Least Some Breast Milk
Recent analysis of 123 countries worldwide by UNICEF reported that
95% of babies worldwide are breastfed at some point in their lives, although the data does show that more babies in low- and middle-income countries typically receive breast milk than in high-income countries. 6 Your Breast Milk Changes Tastes Depending On What You Eat
Breast milk is never boring. It changes constantly depending on
what you've eaten, the time of day, and the nutritional needs of your baby.
“Some flavors impact the taste of breast milk subtly, very similarly to amniotic fluid that gets swallowed by the baby in utero,” Ashley Georgakopoulos,
Motif Medical lactation director and IBCLC, tells Romper. “It's nature’s way of acclimating baby to foods they may later eat in their culture.” 7 One Breast Can Produce More Milk Than The Other
Regardless of how frequently you might nurse on one side or the other, you probably have
one breast that produces a bit more milk. You can blame the natural asymmetry of the human body that causes anatomical variances between your left and right breast tissue, ducts, and alveoli, according to Kelly Mom. 8 Breastfeeding Rates Among Mothers 30 & Up Is Significantly Higher Than In Younger Moms 9 It's Legal To Breastfeed In Public In All 50 States
All 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have legislation in place protecting (or at least allowing)
breastfeeding mothers' right to nurse their child wherever they please, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. 10 Extended Breastfeeding Isn't The Norm In America
Fewer than 16% of moms in the United States
breastfeed past the age of about 18 months, according to data collected by the CDC. The same report showed that the average age for babies in the United Sates to cease breastfeeding exclusively is 6 months. 11 Many People Don’t Breastfeed As Long As They Originally Intended
For a variety of reasons that include nutritional concerns, lack of parental leave, and unsupportive workplace policies, data from the CDC concludes that
60% of breastfeeding moms don’t nurse as long as they intended to. However, initiatives like the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Healthy People 2030 Breastfeeding Objectives aims to change this by providing more community support to those who nurse. 12 Extended Breastfeeding Has Numerous Benefits For Your Child
Extended breastfeeding has all of
the same benefits for an older baby or toddler as it does for a newborn, according to Parents. In fact, CNN reported on a study linking higher IQs and income to extended breastfeeding.
“The most important impact health-wise in extended breastfeeding beyond a year of age is the maturation of the intestinal wall and microbiome development,” Georgakopoulos tells Romper. “Breast milk stabilizes the pH of the gut and protects the lining, allowing good bacteria to thrive for a healthy immune system and to decrease internal inflammation.”
13 Breastfeeding Can Help You Feel More At Ease 14 Breast Milk Composition Changes Over Time
When you hear other moms talk about their milk “coming in,” they’re referring to the transition that happens when your
breast milk composition changes from the thick, nutrient-dense colostrum shortly after birth to the creamier transitional milk, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). Additionally, the AAP noted that your breast milk will transition again to “mature milk” after the first several weeks of breastfeeding when the milk becomes thinner and your breasts may appear softer. 15 Breast Size Makes No Difference
Whether you have big or small breasts makes absolutely no difference in the amount of milk you can produce
, according to lactation consultants. “Breast size is mainly in relation to how much fat is stored there, not so much milk production,” Georgakopoulos tells Romper. “However, storage capacity may be slightly affected, but not noticeably.” 16 Successful Breastfeeding Reduces Risk Of Postpartum Depression
“When supported, breastfeeding can have a positive impact on mental health, both emotionally and hormonally,” Georgakopoulos tells Romper.
A study published in the
International Journal of Psychiatry in Medicine reported that there is less of a chance of her being diagnosed with postpartum depression due to the release of oxytocin when a mother breastfeeds. However, if breastfeeding isn't going well for a new mom, there are also studies showing an increased risk of PPD. 17 You Can (& Should) Breastfeed When You're Sick Gaj Rudolf / EyeEm/EyeEm/Getty Images
In the vast majority of cases, it's safe to breastfeed even when you have a fever or cold. In fact, doing so will actually help protect your baby against getting sick, because of the benefits to baby's immune system in your milk.
“If sick and feeling symptoms, baby has already been exposed to the illness,” Georgakopoulos tells Romper. “Breastfeeding actually protects by providing the specific antibodies needed, giving the baby and his or her immature immune system a fighting chance.”
18 Babies Nurse In Different Positions
five common breastfeeding positions — cradle, cross-cradle, football, laid back, and side-lying. It may take some trial and error, but both mom and baby should find the position that works best for them. Positioning can vary from baby to baby (yes, even for siblings and twins) and also from feed to feed for the same baby as they grow. 19 Breastfeeding Can Reduce Breast Cancer Risks
“Breast cancer risks are certainly reduced with breastfeeding; the longer the duration, the better,” Georgakopoulos says.
Numerous studies have been done on the subject, according to information from the MD Anderson Cancer Center, which concluded that the shedding of the breast tissue which occurs during breastfeeding helps remove cells with potential DNA damage that
could lead to breast cancer. 20 Breast Milk Can Heal
You’ve likely heard from other breastfeeding moms to use a few drops of your liquid gold if your baby has an earache or other ailment. Chances are, your breast milk can help your baby, but if the problems persist, seeing a doctor is always the best course of action.
“In theory, breast milk can help with both ear and eye infections,” Georgakopoulos tells Romper. “If severe, medical care is still recommended.”
21 Breastfeeding Can Reset Your Metabolism
It’s no secret that your body changes drastically in order to support a pregnancy. Research shows that lactation can actually help your body return to your
pre-pregnancy metabolic rate and decrease the risk of developing diabetes post-birth, a study in Current Diabetes Reports showed. 22 Returning To Work Sooner Could Mean Breastfeeding Less
Although the reasons behind this make sense, and the lack of proper maternity leave and breastfeeding breaks is likely responsible, studies published in the
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health show that moms who return to work full-time at just six to 12 weeks postpartum are 50% less likely to meet their breastfeeding goals than moms who do not return to full-time employment. 23 Breast Milk Can Detect A Baby’s Feeding Pattern 24 Breastfeeding Can Impact A Person’s Menstrual Cycle
Due to the hormonal shifts that happen with breastfeeding,
nursing can change a person’s menstrual cycle, making it non-existent, spotty, or inconsistent — but, experts say it’s all normal. As OB-GYN Dr. Sarah Yamaguchi previously told Romper, breastfeeding moms “can get their period anywhere from four weeks after their delivery to three to four months after the last time they comfort feed their child.” 25 Breastfeeding Reduces Risk Of SIDS
Though not much is known about the cause of sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS), it is believed that breastfeeding can diminish a baby's risk. A study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics found that
SIDS reduction is one of the many benefits of nursing that is hard to ignore. 26 Breast Milk Can Contain Covid Antibodies
Research is still ongoing, but there is promising data available that shows how
Covid-19 antibodies can be passed from mom to baby through breast milk. While this would not guarantee a baby would be immune from infection, it can provide some reassurance for nursing moms who have been vaccinated or previously infected. 27 Breastfeeding Also Reduces The Risk Of Obesity
Although the reasons behind the findings aren't fully established, there are studies linking
breastfeeding and lower risks of obesity, according to the World Health Organization. It may be difference in insulin levels and pancreatic activity, or a difference in the protein and energy metabolized. 28 Breastfeeding Even Reduces The Chances Of Developing Allergies
The American Academy of Allergy Asthma and Immunology suggests that breastfeeding may decrease
your baby’s chance of developing chronic eczema, as well as protect them against other irritants and sicknesses.
“While not totally preventable, protecting the integrity of the gut by breastfeeding and only introducing solids and dairy when age appropriate is a reduction in risk for allergies, be it food or environmental,” Georgakopoulos tells Romper. “Internal inflammation, and the body reacting to things otherwise harmless, are the precursors to developing an allergic reaction.”
29 Breastfeeding Burns Calories
It's a lot of work for your body to produce breast milk — so much so that some moms
burn between 500 and 700 extra calories per day while producing breast milk, according to La Leche League International. 30 It's Rare To Have A Low Milk Supply
Although most moms fear they're not
making enough milk for their baby, it's actually rare, according to Mayo Clinic.
“Inherently, less than 10% of women have a predisposition to low milk supply,” Georgakopoulos tells Romper. “However, it’s very common for certain obstacles and outside influences to lead to low supply issues, be it at the breast or pumping.
31 You Don't Have To Give Up Alcohol When Breastfeeding
“Alcohol consumption is fine,” Georgakopoulos tells Romper. However, moms who choose to have alcohol while breastfeeding will want to be aware of how much and how often they’re consuming.
“It comes down to moderation and timing, and food helps, too,” she explains. “Blood alcohol and milk alcohol levels metabolize at the same time. Stick with one serving and allow an hour to pass before feeding or pumping.”
32 Non-Biological Parents Can Nurse Their Babies
There are countless stories of parents in the LGBTQ community who breastfeed their children, and often the parent who carried the child will nurse, but in some cases,
co-nursing is encouraged and practiced. La Leche League International provides a wealth of resources for LGBTQ families seeking nursing support.
But La Leche League International also
offers support to adoptive parents who want to breastfeed. Some parents are able to stimulate milk production before their baby even arrives, and some are able to use supplements to make a breastfeeding situation for their baby. 33 Breastfeeding Might Hurt, But Not Forever
It's a common myth that breastfeeding has to hurt. Though it may cause discomfort or pain, especially at first as your body adjusts to your milk supply and your baby's latch, the pain should cease as you and your baby get the hang of things.
“Discomfort may be a passing thing, but actual pain should be investigated. It’s a myth that nipples have to toughen up,’” Georgakopoulos explains.
34 Breast Milk Can Support Dental Development
alignment of a child’s primary teeth can be positively impacted by breastfeeding, a study in the Journal of the American Dental Association reported. This is great news for any breastfeeding parent hoping to avoid the expense of braces later on. 35 Breastfeeding Wasn't Always The Norm 36 But The Stats Are Slowly Changing
By the '90s, the benefits of breastfeeding were being rediscovered, and breastfeeding has been on the rise, however slowly, ever since. The most recent data from the CDC shows that
84% of babies in the United States are breastfed at some point in their lives. Studies Referenced: Doan, T., Gardiner, A., Gay, C. L., & Lee, K. A. (2007). Breast-feeding Increases Sleep Duration of New Parents. The Journal of Perinatal & Neonatal Nursing, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/17700096/ Kendall-Tackett, K., Cong, Z., & Hale, T. W. (2011). The Effect of Feeding Method on Sleep Duration, Maternal Well-being, and Postpartum Depression. Clinical Lactation, https://www.semanticscholar.org/paper/The-Effect-of-Feeding-Method-on-Sleep-Duration%2C-and-Kendall-Tackett-Cong/7a392d07adda228f6a5cabb13f701b933098a70d Gunderson, E. P. (2014). Impact of Breastfeeding on Maternal Metabolism: Implications for Women with Gestational Diabetes. Current Diabetes Reports, https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11892-013-0460-2 Lauer, E., Armenti, K., Henning, M., & Sirois, L. (2019). Identifying Barriers and Supports to Breastfeeding in the Workplace Experienced by Mothers in the New Hampshire Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children Utilizing the Total Worker Health Framework. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30781764/ Vennemann, M., Bajanowski, T., Brinkmann, B., Jorch, G., Yucesan, K., Sauerland, C., & Mitchell, E. (2009). Does Breastfeeding Reduce the Risk of Sudden Infant Death Syndrome? Pediatrics, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/19254976/ Salone, L. R., Vann, W. F., & Dee, D. L. (2013). Breastfeeding. The Journal of the American Dental Association, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23372130/ Stevens, E. E., Patrick, T. E., & Pickler, R. (2009). A History of Infant Feeding. Journal of Perinatal Education, https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20190854/ Wright, A. L., & Schanler, R. J. (2001). The Resurgence of Breastfeeding at the End of the Second Millennium. The Journal of Nutrition, https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/131/2/421S/4686960 Experts: Ashley Georgakopoulos, Motif Medical lactation director and IBCLC Rebecca Costello, IBCLC, MPH of In the Flow Lactation
This article was originally published on
Aug. 1, 2016