31 Facts You Didn't Know About Breastfeeding To Honor Breastfeeding Awareness Month
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.
August is 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
You probably don't feel like it, but it's estimated that breastfeeding moms get an extra 45 minutes of sleep per night, according to a study in the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing. Another study in the journal Clinical Lactation found that breastfeeding moms reported getting an average of 6.61 hours of sleep per night as compared to 6.3 hours for formula-feeding moms.
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 In the Flow Lactation 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.”
4. Breastfeeding Can Save Your Family $1,200-$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 And Up Is Significantly Higher Than In Younger Moms
Data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that the percentage of moms who breastfeed increases greatly in older moms. Only about 43% of moms who are 20 and younger breastfeed, while 65% of moms aged 20 to 29 breastfeed. Moms over 30 have the highest breastfeeding rate, at over 75%.
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. 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.”
12. Breastfeeding Can Help You Feel More At Ease
It is a commonly known fact that breastfeeding releases the hormone oxytocin, which relaxes both baby and mom, according to La Leche League International.
13. 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.
14. 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 The Bump.
“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.”
15. 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.
16. You Can (And Should) Breastfeed When You're Sick
In the vast majority of cases, it's safe to breastfeed even when you have a fever or cold, according to Baby Center. 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.”
17. 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.
18. 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.”
19. 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.
20. 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.
21. 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.
22. Breastfeeding Also Reduces The Risk Of Obesity
Although the reason 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.
23. 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.”
24. Breastfeeding Burns Calories
It's a lot of work for your body to produce breast milk — so much so that some moms burn up to 500 extra calories per day while producing breast milk, according to Healthline.
25. 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.
26. 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.”
27. 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.
28. 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.
29. Breast Milk Can Support Dental Development
The 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.
30. Breastfeeding Wasn't Always The Norm
At least, not in the United States. Breastfeeding rates were at their lowest during the '60s and '70s, when formulas were being "aggressively marketed" to the public, according to an article from the Journal of Perinatal Education. A mere 22% of moms breastfed their babies in 1972, the Journal of Nutrition reported.
31. 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.
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Ashley Georgakopoulos, Motif Medical lactation director and IBCLC
Rebecca Costello, IBCLC, MPH of In the Flow Lactation
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