Milk of life…

I know I run the risk of sounding like a stuck record, but yet again today, I have found myself amazed at how clever the human body is and how incredible the whole process of breastfeeding is. I took my little one for a ‘weigh-in’ this morning and found that she has put on over a pound since she was last weighed – around two weeks ago.

Considering I was a little concerned last week that she was being fussy with her feeding and hadn’t been latching on for very long, it just goes to show she is more than getting what she needs. Clever little thing.

I sought some opinions through my breastfeeding support group this week about fore and hind milk. I mentioned these two different ‘types’ of milk in my last blog entry but the short feeds made me wonder how baby was getting to the fatty hind milk at all. I learned that to think of the milk coming through in two stages is oversimplifying the process. All milk contains fat, but the initial mouthfuls will contain more water and be more thirst quenching. As baby feeds, the concentration of fat in the milk will increase but the amount of time baby is latched on has no bearing on how much fatty milk they are getting.

At around the same time, a friend of mine posted a link to an interesting online article called “The Secrets of Breast Milk” which goes into more detail than I have read before about what exactly is in our milk. The article reports on findings to date of a Harvard University study into what makes up breast milk and how these constituent ingredients seem to change according to ‘signals’ sent between mother and baby. It makes for a fascinating read and illustrates how little we know about this mysterious yet ultimately natural and basic process.

Certainly the ability for the human body to vary the make-up of milk according to baby’s needs, be those related to temperature, infection, growth and weight-gain makes sense and we can all see evidence of this as we feed and the amount of milk available seems to change – one day we wake up with footballs for boobs and the next they feel empty yet baby seems as satisfied as ever.

It also brings home the importance of realising that breast milk is everything when a baby is exclusively fed this way. In other words, sometimes baby will latch on for just a few sucks (I call this her ‘cup of tea’ feed). Because breast fed babies have no need for water or anything else to supplement their diet, as a breastfeeding mum, you do need to remember that sometimes they do just want that little drink as opposed to a full tummy of milk.

But, as amazed as I am to read more about the science behind breast milk, and as wonderful as it is that we know more than ever about how important it is for our babies’ health, there is a part of me that hopes the boffins never completely get to the bottom of it. It seems it’s human nature to want to copy/simulate/improve/meddle with anything we learn about or try to create an artificial alternative. When it comes to breastfeeding, I think a little bit of mystery is protecting a very important part of our evolution and biological make-up.

‘The Science of Breast Milk’ article can be found at the following link: http://www.slate.com/blogs/how_babies_work/2013/03/20/the_science_of_breast_milk_latest_research_on_nursing_and_milk_vs_formula.html

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