Breast Milk is Medicine! And 4 Other Powerful Benefits of Breastfeeding You May Not Have Heard of!

We all know that breastmilk provided the best possible nutrition for your growing baby. But, the benefits of breastmilk go so much farther! Here are 4 reasons to be amazed by this magical elixir of life...

Breast Milk is Medicine

The concept of “Breastmilk as medicine” dates back in history. It is documented as early as the seventeenth century that breastmilk was used as a medicine to treat a variety of illnesses and conditions such as consumption, food for weak adults, loss of appetite, hysteria, faintness, blindness, earache, eye infections to name a few.

So, were our fellow forebearers off their rocker? Or were they on to something?

In modern times, we are starting to understand the science behind breastmilk and are well on our way to knowing more about what makes the components of breastmilk so healing.

Breastmilk is alive; it is teaming with antibacterial, antimicrobial and super components to boost your baby’s immune system. In fact, one teaspoon of your breastmilk has as many as 3 million germ-killing cells in it!

If your baby becomes unwell, your body springs into action and makes specific antibodies to help your baby fight off what is needed to fight off the illness. So, it really is true breastmilk is medicine -Booby milk fixes everything when in doubt, whip them out.

Breastfeeding Reduces Your Baby’s Risk of SIDS

Sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) is the unexplained death, usually during sleep, of a seemingly healthy baby less than a year old. SIDS is sometimes known as “cot death” because the infants often die in their cots.

Although the cause is unknown, it appears that SIDS might be associated with defects in the portion of an infant's brain that controls breathing and arousal from sleep. Breastfeeding your baby has been shown to have a protective effect against SIDS.

Several theories help us to understand why breastfeeding your bay can reduce the risk of SIDS. One theory suggests that breastfeeding babies wake and rouse from sleep more easily and more frequently than formula-fed babies at 2-3 months, which is the peak age of a SIDS event to occur.

Regular feeding requires the mother and baby to be in close physical contact and this also helps the baby to regulate their breathing, temperature and heart rate.

Another theory is that breastfeeding provides your baby with vital immune factors, which help to protect your baby against SIDS. This may be why breastfed babies get sick less often than formula-fed babies and suffer from fewer infections.

Breastfeeding May Reduce Your Risk of Breast Cancer

The latest scientific research on breast cancer shows that there is strong evidence that breastfeeding may reduce women's risk of premenopausal and postmenopausal breast cancers. A review of several studies has found strong evidence to suggest that a woman's breast cancer risk can be reduced if she breast-feeds her children.

The American Institute for Cancer Research (AICR) and the World Cancer Research Fund (WCRF) has released a report that tells us several possible explanations for how breastfeeding lowers breast cancer risk.

One possible reason for this connection is that lactation delays when a woman starts menstruating again after giving birth. This reduces lifetime exposure to hormones such as oestrogen, which are linked to increased risk of breast cancer.

Another way in which breastfeeding may lower breast cancer risk is that, after lactation, the breast sheds a lot of tissue during which it may also get rid of cells with damaged DNA, which can give rise to cancer.

The report also suggests that lactation may change the expression of genes in breast cells in a way that has a "lasting impact" on the risk of cancer development.

Read the full report here.

Breastfeeding Mothers Get More Sleep

You may have heard that if you want your baby to sleep through the night then giving them a bottle of formula will help. Research tells us this is not true. In fact, it can even be damaging to a woman’s milk supply and set her up for plugged ducts and mastitis.

Making up bottles in the middle of the night takes time. This means that, by the time you have made the bottle and warmed it, your baby may have woken fully and become upset. Babies don’t like to wait when it comes to food and resettling an upset baby can be challenging.

During the first three months, parents of exclusively breastfed babies have been shown to sleep longer at night (by 40 minutes on average) than parents of babies who are given formula. Once breastfeeding finds its rhythm, most mothers find they can pick up and feed their baby without their baby waking fully or having to get out of bed.

Breastfeeding hormones help both mother and baby relax and get back to sleep quickly. Sleeping through the night is a developmental milestone and will occur when your baby is ready, usually somewhere between 6 weeks and six years (yes you read that correctly Muma- 6 years!)

Babies and children wake at night for lots of reasons, not just hunger. Many mothers find that is they take a relaxed approach to sleep that nighttime waking becomes easier to manage.

Trusting that your child will sleep through the night at some point when they are developmentally ready can help to put concerns around sleep to bed!

Breastmilk is Nutritious at Any Age

The World Health Organisation recommends that mothers exclusively breastfeed infants for the child's first six months to achieve optimal growth, development and health. After that, they should be given nutritious complementary foods and continue breastfeeding up to the age of two years or beyond.

In our western culture, we have developed a societal, cultural norm that breastfeeding past the first year is somehow wrong or a little weird. But anthropological research has shown that the natural age of weaning for humans is between 2.5 and seven years of age.

Breastfeeding doesn’t have to stop once your child gets teeth, can talk, can walk or after the first year. Breastfeeding can and should continue for as long as both mother and child wish.

It is important to note that breastmilk doesn’t suddenly stop being nutritious for your little one in fact between the first and second year. For example, 448 mL of breastmilk provides:

  • 29% of energy requirements
  • 43% of protein requirements
  • 36% of calcium requirements
  • 75% of vitamin A requirements
  • 76% of folate requirements
  • 94% of vitamin B12 requirements
  • 60% of vitamin C requirements

— Dewey 2001

Breastmilk is Powerful Stuff!

Toddlers often get sick. They are exploring the world, running around, experimenting and touching everything that they can. Toddlerhood can also be a time when many babies start attending day-care are exposed to new viruses and illnesses. By continuing to breastfeed, you will be supplementing and boosting their immune system.

Toddlers often become picky eaters, by providing them breastmilk you ensure that they will continue to get essential vitamins and nutrients until they develop adequate eating habits

If you and your baby are happy to continue breastfeeding into toddlerhood and beyond, there is no reason to stop. Be part of the movement to help normalise what is normal!

How long do you plan on breastfeeding your child? Were you surprised by any of the benefits of breastmilk listed here? Let’s have a conversation here or on the Medela Australia Facebook page.