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Breastfeeding: More than Milk

shutterstock_280542005-2Jean Merrill, Maryland

 You’ve probably heard the words “breast is best” many times. That phrase barely touches the surface when describing the miraculous properties your milk can give your baby. Every single body system thrives on the unique baby-growing properties of your milk. Your milk is amazing, custom-made constantly to meet the exact needs of your baby at any given point in time.

From colostrum—the perfect low-volume, super-concentrated food for baby’s first few days of life—all the way through to milk for older babies and toddlers, which gives a higher amount of immunoglobulins to our little ones who touch and explore the world. Your milk is designed to protect and nourish your baby perfectly.

Breastfed babies are less likely to have problems with:

  • Food allergies
  • Ear infections
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Respiratory problems
  • Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS)
  • Speech issues requiring speech therapy (the breastfed baby’s oral palate develops differently than that of a baby who sucks on a bottle nipple)
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Type 1 and 2 diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Obesity
  • Osteoporosis
  • Some cancers

That is a long list of undeniable goodness! In addition, breastfed babies are more likely to avoid orthodontics because their oral arches develop in accordance with the biological norm.

shutterstock_109551953-2Not only are these health benefits to babies (including more than I’ve listed) mind-boggling, but also the health benefits for you are equally profound. It is well known that breastfeeding is a protective factor against reproductive cancers, including breast, uterine, and cervical cancer. The longer the breastfeeding relationship continues, the greater these protections. Did you know that breastfeeding also provides protection against:

  • Postpartum hemorrhage
  • Osteoporosis
  • Iron deficiency anemia
  • Rheumatoid arthritis

Other perks of breastfeeding include:

  • Bonding with our babies (lactation hormones are commonly referred to as “mothering hormones” because mothers report feeling intensely bonded with their babies)
  • Reduced Anxiety (those mothering hormones at work again)
  • Natural child spacing
  • A break from menstruation (for most women)
  • No waste means a cleaner environment

Listing all of the wonderful things science and medicine have proven about breast milk is just setting the already-high-benchmark before discussing what is arguably even more spectacular and wonderful. Breast milk is truly great, but breastfeeding is so much more than just the milk.

Breastfeeding is physically healthy for mothers and babies, but feeding your baby at the breast also nurtures much more than your baby’s body. By watching your baby for early signs of being ready to nurse, you also learn about his or her personality. Whether impatient, intense, playful, or passive, they are communicating with you, giving you clues about the type of person he or she is, and the mothering response they will need from you.

shutterstock_333965300-2Nobody is more of an expert on your baby than you. These early interactions set you up to mother perfectly. You are learning how to be a mother to this particular, unique, and wonderful human being. Mothering is a hard job. Becoming an expert on the subject matter is a crucial part of mothering success.

The breast is the best mothering tool. Nature has gifted us with the all-in-one solution to almost any mothering quandary that might arise in the early years. Obviously, feeding the baby is one of the clear benefits of having the perfect milk ready at all times, but the breast offers so much more than the answer to a baby’s hunger and thirst needs.

  • Over-stimulated? The breast helps to block out the busyness of the world.
  • Tired? Nursing to sleep is peaceful and dearly satisfying to both mothers and babies.
  • Sick? Not only is being cuddled at the breast comforting, but your milk will actually help your baby to heal with the perfect blend of electrolytes and passive immunity boosters to whatever germ baby is fighting.
  • Hurt? After a tumble, nothing soothes a baby like time at the breast.
  • Hot or cold? Our body responds to baby’s temperature by altering our own temperature to make sure baby is comfortable.

No matter the problem, more often than not, offering the breast solves it. That is one priceless tool to have in a mothering toolkit.

More than solving almost any physical and emotional need baby might have, mothering at the breast teaches foundational lessons about family, relationships, love, and respect. By caring for our baby’s needs, we show him that he is worthy of respect. By lovingly admiring every inch of her tiny, wondrous body while she is in our arms and at our breast, we teach her about love, tenderness, warmth, and affection. In responding to his requests, we show him that we are reliable, dependable, and trustworthy. In role modeling these values, we begin to show our baby how to embody those values, too.

Simply by being present and responsive, offering the breast, and carefully watching our babies, we learn how to be mothers.

shutterstock_443140102-2I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Mothering is a hard job, full of intensities we couldn’t have imagined “pre-baby.” Letting go of the duty of mothering and embracing the delightful stuff is easier when we know we have the fundamentals covered. We don’t have to overthink mothering when we listen to our instincts and mother our babies by following the physical internal drive that flows along with the milk.

The overriding answer to many of the challenging mothering questions is to first get the support that reinforces our mothering instincts. Then, simply and joyfully love our babies: in our arms, at our breast. The rest will fall into place. That is priceless, profound, amazing, and is about way more than just the milk.