Mammals. We get our name from the incredible mammary glands that provide nourishment to our young. The act of breastfeeding seems so straightforward, but take one look at our social climate or talk to a new parent, and you’ll soon see that it is anything but. The journey of lactation for a parent and child can come with its own twists, turns, and surprises – while also making way for one of the most profound acts of connection and devotion. So let’s latch on to this incredible subject, and get a better understanding for the magic of lactation, and all that comes with it.
This magical substance, made by our incredible bodies, has the ability to nourish, sustain, and allow a child to thrive for years. Human milk is tailor-made to each individual baby, and changes day to day, as well as breast to breast. One of the first things to understand about breastmilk is the difference between colostrum and milk.
Colostrum typically starts being produced in the middle of pregnancy, and for the first few days after baby is born. This thick and sticky concentrated milk can be yellow, clear, or white, and is full of protein, sugars and fats. Rich in immunologic components and developmental factors, colostrum helps set the foundation of a strong immune system for a new little human. It contains immune signaling peptides, or PRP’s, which stimulate cell mediated immunity – an essential part of the body’s defense against viral and bacterial infections. It serves as a laxative for meconium, aka baby’s first poop, getting their digestive system moving and adjusted to life on land.
Thanks to the incredible work of science, we’ve gotten a glimpse into just what breastmilk is made of. Although the ratios change depending on the baby’s age and needs, human milk is primarily composed of water, carbohydrates (mainly lactose), fat, amino acids, proteins, and minerals. There are approximately 600 different species of bacteria in human milk – all that help to create and support a thriving immune system. The oligosaccharides, or sugars, in milk intelligently act as a decoy, causing viruses to attach to these molecules instead of attacking the baby’s immune system. Mind blowing!
Human milk is not just for hungry babies either. It can be used topically to treat diaper rash and other rashes, eczema, eye infections, sore nipples, cooking, or even as creamer in your coffee!
The benefits of breastfeeding are endless. Babies that are fed human milk are less prone to obesity, high blood pressure, heart disease, as well as a decreased risk of illness. There are many benefits for the breastfeeding person as well. Those who are able to breastfeed often have improved postpartum recovery, as well as a decreased risk of ovarian cancer, osteoporosis, and long term obesity.
That’s not to say that breastfeeding doesn’t come with its own set of challenges. Between “low milk supply,” tongue ties, mastitis, sore nipples, and difficulty latching, there are a myriad of factors that affect a lactating person’s ability or choice to breastfeed.
Your Baby, Your Body, Your Choice
As a parent, ultimately you know what’s best for you, your child, and your family. Anyway you choose to feed your baby is beautiful and part of the inseparable bond you build with your new little one. If you are having trouble breastfeeding, you may consider seeking out a lactation consultant to help support you.
We understand that breastfeeding is not for everyone. Many cities have milk banks where breastfeeding people can donate milk to babies in need. It is also possible to find private donors in your area. For queer families, it is now possible for the partner who did not carry the child (if they have mammary glands), to take hormones that allows them to lactate and feed their baby. There are also a growing number of formulas that are fully capable of providing proper nourishment for babies.
Being a new parent has enough of its own challenges without the added shame so many feel about how they choose to feed their baby. Trust your intuition and support parents you know or those you come in contact with. It’s so easy to pass judgment, but at the end of the day, we have know clue what someone else’s journey looks like until we ask them. If someone chooses not to breastfeed, or can’t – they don’t owe anyone an explanation. Their baby, their body, their choice.
What Has Your Journey Been Like?
We asked a few incredible mothers with children of all ages about their journey through breastfeeding.
“The memory that fills me with the most joy and warmth, when thinking about feeding my babies, was the bonding that occurred while staring into each other’s eyes. Neither one of us would look away. There was nothing around us. It was just my baby and me in our own little world. Two separate beings, connecting souls.” – Debra R.
“We’re two years and three months in, best decision ever! Especially if you co-sleep, it’s so easy to pop them on the boob in the middle of the night. I love not having to worry too much when we are sick, since she is comforted, hydrated, and getting immunity boosts from the milk. It’s normal to get aggravated and angry (aversion) at them when they’re feeding, it happens to me sometimes. I never want to wean her off, because then I have to be worried she’s not getting the right nutrition! It’s the best.” – Dawn M.
“Breastfeeding has been a rollercoaster! It’s the part of motherhood you assume comes naturally, but that’s not always the case. Don’t be quick to give up, everyday will be different. Seek help from a lactation specialist rather than a doctor, as they are more patient with troubleshooting. A lot of doctors push formula as a quick fix. Don’t be afraid to ask for help from mothers and friends you trust. BE PATIENT WITH YOURSELF, your body, and your baby.” – Thalia Z.
“I have such a deep love for breastfeeding…the passionate bond, the depth of connection between us, no prep, no mess, the miracle of my body sustaining life it created, the medical and nutritional benefits it offers my babes and the oxytocin that flows freely between us. If Love is a river, nursing is my favorite bank to sit and sip it in. Breastfeeding is the most intimate, magical, and personal experience I have ever had.” – Alila Rose Grace
with lactacting love, Alilia Rose Grace, CEO Mahina Menstrual Cup