by Amy Spangler
April 10, 2012
Human milk is a marvel of evolution—six million years in the making—with a delivery system that has truly endured the test of time. Think you know everything there is to know about breastfeeding? Here are a few facts that might surprise you:
- Mammals are the only animals that produce a unique and complex fluid that protects and nourishes their young. Infant formulas nourish but do not protect.
- The human breast contains hundreds of milk-producing cells ensuring an ample supply of milk for one, two, or more babies! Instances of insufficient milk are rare and are usually due to lack of knowledge or lack of support.
- Aristotle was among those who wrongly thought milk produced in the first days after birth (colostrum) was unsuitable to drink. So much for genius!
- There are over 200 known ingredients in human milk and they are all free! Mothers that breastfeed save as much as $2,500 the first year alone in bottles, nipples, and formula.
- Babies are born with reflexes such as rooting, sucking, and swallowing that make learning to breastfeed easier. But it takes patience, persistence, and practice to become proficient.
- Babies who must cry in order to be fed often have difficulty latching on. Crying also triggers the release of hormones that affect brain development and personality. Keeping your baby close—day and night—during the early weeks, will ensure that you see your baby’s hunger cues long before you hear his cry.
- Breastfeeding can be painful at first. But the pain should only last a few seconds. If the pain persists, it can be a sign that your baby is poorly latched. Break the suction, remove your baby from the breast, and try again. Still hurts? Get help from someone trained to help moms breastfeed.
- Breastfeeding a child beyond their first year is normal. Mammals most like humans—chimpanzees, orangutans, and gorillas—nurse their young for 4–6 years.
- The portions of the brain associated with maternal sensitivity are more active in breastfeeding mothers compared to formula-feeding mothers. The significance of this and similar findings are yet to be gleaned.
- In 2010, a group of Swedish scientists discovered a substance in human milk that kills cancer cells but spares healthy cells. Dubbed HAMLET—human alpha-lactalbumin made lethal to tumor cells—these cells serve as a reminder of how little we know about human milk and why artificial formula will never compare.