What you might not know about breastmilk

What you might not know about breastmilk

Before we get down to it, an FYI about inclusion: BMC understands that it is important to recognize gender inclusivity. For the purpose of this article we will refer to “breastfeeding,” however some families may prefer to utilize the term “chest feeding” or “human milk.” As you read this information, substitute the terms that best fit your family and know that we celebrate all families in their many shapes, sizes, and backgrounds.


For babies….

  • Breastfed babies typically get sick less. Breastfeeding reduces the risk of ear infections, diarrhea, and stomach problems.
  • Children who are breastfed have a lower risk of many health problems as they grow up. Babies who are NOT breastfed have a higher risk of asthma (9% higher), diabetes (35% higher), and overweight/obesity (26% higher) throughout their lives than people who are breastfed. Since African-Americans and other people of color in the U.S. are at an increased risk for these conditions, it's important to understand the long-term benefits of breastfeeding.
  • Breastmilk is made specifically for your baby. It changes levels of immune factors when you or your baby get sick to help your baby get better faster. And it saves lives, especially among premature or very small babies.
  • Breastmilk helps your baby’s immune system, gastrointestinal system and brain develop optimally. Factors in breastmilk help the complete maturation of these systems after your baby is born, helping them function well throughout life.


For Parents…

  • Breastfeeding reduces the risk of breast cancer and ovarian cancer in parents. People who have breastfed have a 22% lower risk of breast cancer and a 30% lower risk of ovarian cancer than women who never breastfeed. Breastfeeding also reduces breastfeeding mothers’ risk of postpartum depression and getting hypertension and diabetes down the line.
  • Breastfeeding allows your body to recover from pregnancy and childbirth more quickly. The hormones released when you breastfeed make your uterus contract back to its pre-pregnancy size.
  • Breastfeeding may help you to lose weight. Mothers who exclusively breastfeed can burn as many as 600 calories a day, which may help you get back to your pre-pregnancy weight.
  • Your body starts getting ready to breastfeed during pregnancy. The aches you feel or bra sizes going up is your body growing more milk making glands in your breast. After you give birth, your body gets the final hormonal signal to make milk in larger quantities.
  • Before your milk comes in, in the first few days after birth, your breasts make a thick, sticky, yellowish fluid sometimes referred to as "liquid gold." Called colostrum, this liquid has the calcium, potassium, proteins, minerals, and antibodies your baby needs. Your baby needs only a few teaspoons to feel full and stay healthy until your milk flow increases, about two to five days after birth.



For parent-baby connections and the whole family…

  • Your baby can smell you. Newborns have a strong sense of smell and know the unique scent of your breast milk. That is why your baby will turn his or her head to you when he or she is hungry.
  • Your baby can see you up close and personal. Babies are born extremely nearsighted, which means they can only see things about 8 to 15 inches away. That also happens to be the distance between your face and your baby's face when breastfeeding. So when your baby locks eyes with you, it's a true bonding moment.
  • Your baby learns night and day and sleeps better. Hormones in the breastmilk help babies learn to sleep at night and be more awake during the day.
  • Breastfeeding can save a family more than $1,200 to $1,500 in formula-related expenses in a baby's first year alone. It also saves time off from work to take care of sick children, as breastfed babies and children get sick less often.
  • Breast milk heals. Breast milk is filled with special components that are designed to help fight infection. So, if your nipples are sore those first few days, gently massaging some of your milk into your nipples can soothe the soreness and speed up recovery. Try rubbing breastmilk on a cut – on your skin, or an older child’s skin – and see how it heels faster because the many immune factors in it.


What if I take medications?

  • Most medications taken by parents are compatible with breastfeeding and safe for your baby. There are many factors that impact if a medication can even get into breastmilk, and if so, how much can get into your baby’s circulation after they drink it.
  • Talk with your doctor about any medications you take. You can also read about specific medications here [https://mothertobaby.org/fact-sheets/]


What if I smoke?

  • You can breastfeed! Breastfeeding still benefits your baby, and can counteract some of the risks that a parent smoking can cause.
  • There are many options to help you stop or cut back on smoking during pregnancy or while breastfeeding – talk with your doctor about them. Smoking can cause many health problems for you and the people who breathe your smoke. You and your family will be healthier if you quit or cut down. Some women cannot stop smoking when they are breastfeeding. It is still healthier for your baby to breastfeed.
  • Here are some tips to keep your baby as healthy as possible:
    • Avoid smoking right before you breastfeed.
    • Do not smoke around your baby and do not let anyone else smoke around your baby.
    • Change your clothes after you smoke before you hold your baby.


I’m worried about breastfeeding in public

  • This is a common concern. First of all, Massachusetts law protects you – you are free to feed your baby however you want to in any place that is open to the public (ie like a restaurant).
  • Breast are first and foremost an organ for making human milk – not for other people to look at or judge you for. Most important is that you feel comfortable feeding your baby. There are many ways to keep your privacy while feeding your baby:
    • Use a scarf or baby blanket to cover your baby and breast while nursing.
    • When you are visiting someone’s home, ask if there is a private place you can feed your baby.
    • Some parents decide to feed with a bottle of pumped milk when they leave the house.


Sources and more info: Read more and get breastfeeding advice at

Reaching Our Sisters Everywhere: http://breastfeedingrose.org/benefits-of-breastfeeding/

Office of Women’s Health: https://www.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/making-decision-breastfeed#1

En Español: https://espanol.womenshealth.gov/breastfeeding/making-decision-breastfeed#1