Breastfeeding can be challenging and there are many reasons why you might not be able to breastfeed your baby. For some, that means choosing to exclusively pump. But how does that differ from exclusively breastfeeding? Experts say the benefits of breast milk include how it changes to fit your little one's needs, but will your milk change if you're exclusively pumping? Is it the biology of suckling that lets your body know what your baby needs, or is it possible to make flu-fighting milk with your pump?
Breast milk is a powerhouse food that is designed to feed your infant perfect nutrition to allow them to grow and develop into healthy children over time. However, it's not always the easiest or best route for you and your child. It's often fraught with emotional implications and physiological complexities that don't rear their head until after you've decided to breastfeed.
Many women are still dedicated to the process, though. I know I was, in spite of my son's horrible initial latch period where he just couldn't get the hang of it, even after many attempts and several meetings with the lactation consultant. I understand intimately why someone would want to go the way of exclusively pumping. But since breast milk is supposedly this malleable food that is reactive to the child, does the fact that the milk is expressed entirely away from the influence of your baby change the composition of the milk? Will your milk change if you're exclusively pumping?
There is little study on the differences in breast milk between breastfeeding and exclusively pumping, but that is changing. There is some research that could suggest that milk that is pumped is less adapted to baby's needs than milk that is expressed via pumping because the breast isn't exposed to the signal markers in the baby's saliva that trigger a bio-reactive shift in the composition in the milk via the mother's own receptors, according to Pediatric Clinics of North America.
Breast milk is also changeable during a period of hours when an infant is feeding from the breast. Research published in The Journal of Human Lactation posited that the protein density of the milk changes based on hunger triggers detected in irregular feeding patterns, seeking to attend to the baby's needs by providing more satiating food at subsequent feedings.
Breast milk changes again as the baby begins taking in solid food in addition to the breast milk. A study published in The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that the lipid content as well as sugars and proteins shifted once the children began receiving supplementary nutrition. The breast milk becomes quite dynamic — reacting to quality of diet and perceived needs based on the mechanisms of response in the mammary tissue. Does this still happen when a woman pumps exclusively, though?
I spoke with Lydia Absolam, a certified lactation consultant from the Detroit area. "Yes, it will likely not be as changeable as it would be if the baby was nursing directly from the breast," she tells Romper. "However, it is still a powerhouse of nutrition, and likely the easiest for baby to tolerate." She notes that it might change if the mother gets ill or if she has mastitis, but that it will be pretty steady, and still really wonderful.
However, we know that your body knows how long you were pregnant, and for how long you've been nursing because of the fatty content of the milk. The milk has more fats and proteins — pumped or expressed — in the case of preterm delivery, suggesting that while it might not have all of the shifts in enzymatic qualities of breast milk straight from breast to baby, it does shift in nutrient composition with time, according to a study in Early Human Development.
In the end, you have to do what works for you and your baby. Breast milk is amazing stuff, regardless of delivery. The way you feed your child is far less important than the fact that your child is fed.
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