Breastfed Baby Facts

Breastfeeding Mother Facts

Myths & Misconceptions

Special Milk Components

Uses & Functions

Breastfed Baby Facts

“If every child was breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, about 220,000 child lives would be saved every year.” – WHO

In utero, babies are observed bringing their hands to their faces when swallowing amniotic fluid. This gesture (hands near the mouth) continues after birth to serve as a hunger cue.

Babies don’t produce their own melatonin at first and aren’t born with a circadian rhythm (they have no sense of day or night). However, breast milk contains a good amount of melatonin, which helps a baby set her own circadian rhythm and sleep for longer periods. Interestingly, breast milk production also has its own special circadian rhythm: the milk hormone prolactin increases significantly during its nighttime cycle, peaking in the early morning hours. This is why babies often wake up for crack-of-dawn feedings–they know the early bird gets the worm (rather, the early babe gets her mom!).

The WHO reported in 2009 that 1.5 million baby deaths occur per year due to “proscription of or insufficient intake of breast milk.”

No more than 35% of infants worldwide are exclusively breastfed during the first four months of life; complementary feeding frequently begins too early or too late, and foods are often nutritionally inadequate and unsafe.” – WHO

Exclusively breastfed babies produce waste that really doesn’t smell all that darn-tootin’ bad! In fact, some have even confessed that it smells strangely “nice.” (I won’t name names — you’re welcome). It makes sense, though: nature has crafted everything about newborns to register as irresistible. Those big eyes, that oversize head on a wee little body, the intense newborn pheromones that emanate from vernix-sheathed skin freshly exposed to the world, and yes, poopies that smell oddly un-stinky too. Survival of the fittest starts with making sure a baby’s first caregivers simply can’t resist protecting him, smooching on him, and don’t even mind wiping his stinky-sweet heiny.

“Researchers report that the subcutaneous fat in breast and formula-fed infants actually has a different composition,” Dr. Jack Newman says. “Many pediatricians who have developed a keen eye and sense of touch over years of examining babies report that they can often tell by the look and feel of an infant’s skin whether or not the baby is breastfed or formula-fed.”

Newborns will crawl to the breast immediately after a natural birth if given the opportunity. Watch it happen in the “Media Brew” tab.

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Breastfeeding Mother Facts

Women who breastfeed their newborns within the two hour window after birth are more than twice as likely to still be breastfeeding at four months postpartum as those who did not nurse their babies until at least two hours post-birth.

Breastfeeding for one year cuts a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer by more than one third, a new study shows.

Despite prior understandings, it’s possible for HIV positive women to safely breastfeed. According to WHO: “…[for HIV positive nursing women,] breastfeeding and [Antiretroviral (ARV) drugs] have the potential to significantly improve infants’ chances of surviving while remaining HIV uninfected.”

A woman who breastfeeds for eight years has a nearly ZERO chance of getting breast cancer. It sounds like a long time, but really it might just involve nursing two children until their fourth birthdays, which is actually pretty normal.

Child-bearing women who haven’t breastfed have a 60% increased risk of getting ovarian cancer. Study statistics like to phrase it as “breastfeeding lowers the risk,” but breastfeeding is something a post-natal woman’s body is already hormonally, chemically, biologically prepared to do, whether or not it actually happens. It makes sense that women who do not continue with this part of the infant development/maternal recovery process are at risk for greater emotional and reproductive health repercussions.

Three out of four mothers (76%) in the U.S. start out breastfeeding (this is the national rate; individual states vary). This initiation rate includes anyone who has “ever breastfed”–meaning even tried just once–so it’s misleading as to the number of mothers who continue to breastfeed, much less without supplementation, but nevertheless this number is thankfully increasing. The CDC 2013 Report Card states that only 16.4 percent of mothers nationwide are still exclusively breastfeeding at six months. This means that in 2013, nearly 84% of U.S. mothers were unable to follow the recommendation of virtually all major health authorities.

There is evidence that blood alcohol is less bioavailable in a lactating woman than a non-lactating woman. In other words, she may not feel quite as strong of a buzz after a glass of wine as she did in her non-nursing days.

Postpartum uterine contractions stimulated by the letdown reflex quickly shape and tone the uterus back to its original size and position. If a mother doesn’t breastfeed during the postpartum recovery period, she may experience greater blood loss for a longer period of time as the breastfeeding letdown reflex helps stymie excessive post-birth uterine shedding.

75% of mothers produce more milk in their right breast.



Adoptive mothers can breastfeed, too! Read more in the “Adoption” section.

Nursing moms have a third less risk of suffering from depression.

Breastfeeding safeguards against osteoporosis. Women may lose 3-5% of their bone mass while breastfeeding, however the process of re-calcification will reverse this temporary loss within six months of weaning and bones actually become stronger. Women over 65 who had breastfed were found to have half the risk of getting a hip fracture. Women who haven’t breastfed have a quadrupled risk of getting osteoporosis!

A mother’s body burns 500 – 1,000 calories per day to produce breast milk, depending on the mother’s physicality, baby’s age, number of children being nurse in tandem, and nursing frequency. (Energy expended from that ever-burning New Mom anxiety and constant carrying or chasing of a nursling is extra, of course).

Evidence shows that some fetal cells may persist in a mother’s body for the rest of her life. This exchange of cells is known as microchimerism.

Studies show that women who nurse at the breast actually get more sleep than women who bottle-feed–in fact, 40-45 minutes more! Mixing formula takes extra time and energy, as does pumping breast milk for bottles.

Taryn Senior with her thirteen-month-old, Piper. Photo Credit: Ana & Ivan Lifestyle Photography

Taryn Senior with her thirteen-month-old, Piper. Photo Credit: Ana & Ivan Lifestyle Photography

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Myths & Misconceptions

Despite what persistent folklore maintains, beer does NOT boost milk supply. In fact, maternal alcohol use may inhibit or delay the letdown reflex in some women.

The Greek word for galaxy (Galaxia) comes from the Greek word for milk (gala). Hence, we have the origin for both “The Milky Way” and the term for lactation-boosting components called “galactogogues.”

A dangerous common practice in India is to discard colostrum and instead feed water to newborns because the first milk is erroneously believed “to be curdled.” Indian women also traditionally refuse to breastfeed a newborn until her mother-in-law is present. Incidentally, India currently has one of the highest pregnancy and childbirth-related mortality rates in the world.

Ever wondered how to talk about breastfeeding in other languages? Click here to see how words related to this “universal language of love” are translated all over the world.

Breastfeeding is NOT linked to tooth decay, as is still commonly believed even in some modern medical circles. Kellymom notes that “before the use of the baby bottle, dental decay in baby teeth was rare.” Find out the true cause of infant dental caries here.

Goats and donkeys have been used to wet nurse babies. In The Goat as The Best and Most Agreeable Wet Nurse published in 1816, infants are described being fed by goats. Author Nicholas Day wrote: “given that many infants not being fed breast milk died from poor sanitation, it was probably safer to go straight to the source, without any germ-infested buckets and pots getting in the way.” The book also reports on French mothers in the 1500s who employed goats to nurse their babies due to “the new plague of syphilis.”

Via Wikipedia

Humans have also nursed other species. There are accounts of New Guinea women nursing orphaned piglets, South Americans nursing baby deer, opossums and monkeys, the Japanese Ainu breastfeeding bear cubs, and many reports of women using puppies to induce milk production, for example Turkish wet nurses who kept a pooch on the boob to increase milk-making while traveling (cutest breast pump ever?). Puppies were also used in England for centuries to ease engorgement and to remove a newly postpartum woman’s colostrum, which doctors at the time believed to be toxic milk.

Some primates in zoos are shown videos of breastfeeding so they understand what they need to do. In an Ohio zoo in the 1980s, La Leche League moms nursed in front of a new mother gorilla so she could learn by example — more proof that this is meant to be a learned skill. Mother Nature has always assumed that by our child-rearing days, we would have already observed many babies being fed. Other mammals may breastfeed with a more automatic reflex instinct as they may not be social pack animals with the advantage of furry nursing peers, La Leche League, or the internet.

Emergence of teeth is not a reason to wean. Polar bear cubs get their pointy polar bear teeth around two months old, and continue to nurse until nearly two years old. If this were a problem, there would be no polar bears. Think about it.

In Mongolia, there’s an oft-quoted saying that the best wrestlers are breastfed for at least six years – a serious endorsement in a country where wrestling is the national sport.” – Ruth Kamnitzer

It’s possible and not uncommon to breastfeed a baby even after the milk has dried up. Known as relactation, women find this useful after a temporary nursing strike, during or after a subsequent pregnancy, after a supply-depleting surgery/medical intervention, or to breastfeed an adopted child.

Studies have linked longer life to pregnancy and breastfeeding. A study of 138 mammalian species has found that “brain size relative to body size is closely associated with a mother’s ‘investment’ in pregnancy and breastfeeding.” Species that have longer periods of gestation and lactation are found to have longer lifespans.

There is evidence that breastfeeding favors male children when times are good (and females when times are rough) based on new findings that the two genders may each receive a different composition of milk. Some research suggests that the mother’s mammary function is first influenced by gender when the baby is in her womb and that milk volume rather than quality is what’s affected by each sex.

The estimated cost of one year’s worth of formula for a child is $1,200-$1,500. The cost of milk from mama’s breast for one year? I wouldn’t call it free, but it is priceless.

Mothers have been shown to produce significantly more milk with much higher fat content when listening to music.

Breast tissue has the second highest concentration of iodine of any area in the body (the thyroid is first).

Remus and Romulus (the mythical founder of Rome) are famously storied as twin brothers who were found and breastfed by a she-wolf.


Breastfeeding is not “automatic” in humans and other primates. Though the mammalian newborn’s suckling reflex is innate, primate parents require a period of learning, which “reflect[s] an evolutionary strategy of an increased investment in offspring.” One study supposed that “this learning may be a trade-off between the reliability of innate behaviors and the flexible power of a learning brain.”

Infant growth charts from the World Health Organization (WHO) are much more accurate at targeting a normal, breastfed baby’s appropriate and healthy growth curve than those by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), which favor the weight and height gains of formula-fed babies and can mistakenly categorize many breastfed babies as underweight for their age.

Cow’s milk, the base of most formula, is a common allergen for human babies at worst, and an intestinal irritant at best (colic, anyone?). In fact, most health authorities recommend against introducing cow’s milk to an infant under the age of one. It is the breast milk of a species that needs its young to gain weight expeditiously and, secondarily, to develop a brain that has the capacity to understand life within the limits of a cud-chewing heifer. Human milk is designed to rapidly develop the brain first because it’s in the best interest of our species’ health and survival; followed then by stable weight gain rather than a focus on rapid overall weight gain.

Did you think baby bottles were a thing of modern times? It turns out that variations of feeding tools/bottles have been used for centuries to replace the breast. For instance, banjo-shaped feeders from the 1800s were first nicknamed “The Princess,” but later referred to as “The Murderer” for reasons that can go unsaid.

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Special Milk Components

The composition of breast milk changes throughout the day, as the weather shifts (higher proportion of foremilk on a hot day), and as a child ages (newborn milk is different from four-month old milk and one-year old milk and so on).

One teaspoon of breast milk contains three million germ-killing cells, according to Iowa Extension Service. Even a single teaspoon per day is extremely valuable — breastfeeding, of course, does not have to be all or nothing.

Breast milk contains cannabinoids called tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) — yes, just like that magical stuff in marijuana. You know, puff the milky dragon…? …pass the boobie doobie? …take a nip hit? …get an ounce of Mommy Jane? I’m kidding… yet serious. THC is an especially interesting property of breast milk because it exists in higher levels in nighttime milk to induce a sedative, sleepy effect to help the baby (and mother) doze off quicker and more easily (also present in highest levels in evening milk is the amino acid tryptophan, famous for inducing post-Thanksgiving sleep comas). Endocannabinoids in breast milk also stimulate a baby’s appetite (yes, that would be infant munchies!). This study found that “[E]ndocannabinoids have been detected in maternal milk and activation of CB1 (cannabinoid receptor type 1) receptors appears to be critical for milk sucking … apparently activating oral-motor musculature.” In other words, these receptors are what make it possible for a newborn to know she’s hungry, to want to eat, and thus feel an impulse to survive.

Did you know that breast milk made for a child over the age of one actually contains MORE antiviral properties per milliliter? It becomes concentrated; as a child nurses less frequently, milk volume decreases. However, it’s still got all the same vital components as “younger” milk. It’s designed to be nature’s “sick shot” — the way it protects mobile toddlers who want to stick everything in their mouths, who love to be dirty, and also the best way to fill in nutritional gaps in a picky kid’s diet. It’s the best natural electrolyte drink for a sick child, too.

Breast milk is the only adult human tissue that contains more than one type of stem cell — in fact, three kinds of stem cells have been discovered in breast milk so far.

Breast milk made for boys has more protein and fat than breast milk made for girls, according to an article in Nature (Dec 23/30). “We know that boys grow faster than girls, and perhaps this is due to the milk, or the milk may be responding to the commands of the child,” said Ginna Wall, coordinator of lactation services at University of Washington Medical Center. One theory offered by Barbara Holmes, a lactation specialist at New York University Langone Medical Center: “The body knows what milk to produce based on the way the baby sucks, so maybe boys suck differently than girls.” Another hypothesis is that “natural selection favors parental investment in daughters when times are hard and in sons when times are easy.”

Human milk oligosaccharides (HMO) produce “short-chain fatty acids that feed a beneficial microbial population in an infant gut.” They also adapt and change to suit a child’s internal needs as s/he ages. Think of HMO as the “fiber” of breast milk. Sharon Donovan revealed in a 2012 University of Illinois study on HMO function:  “There’s evidence that [HMO] can bind to receptors on immune cells and, to our knowledge, no current prebiotic ingredient [such as those found in some formulas] can do that.” HMO resides in even higher quantity in breast milk than protein, but it’s absent from formula, which explains why the gut bacteria of a formula-raised baby differs incomparably.


Breast milk has anti-parasite factors as well!

Breast milk is a living tissue. Think of it as “white blood.” Pretty cool, huh?

Human breast milk also contains high levels of TRAIL (TNF-related apoptosis inducing ligand), which was found in a 2012 study to have strong anticancer function.

Breasts make customized antibodies as the baby communicates to the nipple (via mouth contact) which pathogens and viruses he was exposed to. The breasts will then provide those specific protective elements in the milk by the very next feeding. For instance, say you have a child with a cold. Your breasts will react to the child’s cold germs encountered through his saliva by churning out precise cold-fighting antibodies.

The living, infection-fighting cells called leukocytes are found only in breast milk.

Human breast milk has more than 300 different beneficial ingredients (KNOWN ingredients, I might add – and more are discovered constantly). More than 100 of these components cannot be duplicated in formula — which, by comparison, has only about 40 ingredients (not all of which are even compatible with many individual babies).

Breast milk has different flavors depending on what the mother has eaten, and these early experiences with taste may influence a baby’s food preferences later on. Amniotic fluid is also flavored by the mother’s diet, so babies have expected a variety of changing tastes for as long as they’ve known.

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Uses & Functions

Breastfeeding can be used as natural birth control as it delays postpartum ovulation and menstruation. Also called Lactational Amenorrhea Method (LAM), it has a typical user protection effectiveness rate of 95-99% in the first six months after birth for an exclusive nurser. Comparatively, other birth control methods such as pills, implants, patches, hormone rings and so on, have typical user effectiveness rates of 92-98%, while vasectomy and tubal ligation estimates are 97-99%.

A new scientific paper suggests that wet nursing could function as gene therapy and possibly reverse genetic diseases.

MOMcology in Oncology: Breast milk has a property called lactaptin that has been proven to kill cancer cells. A new drug containing this is currently in its pre-clinical trial stages with intended use as a cancer treatment.

Donor milk is used to treat medical problems in adults, not just babies and children.

An ingredient called lactoferrin is used to safely kill E. Coli in the
meat packing industry. It is an important, concentrated component in human breast milk, especially colostrum (newborn milk).

Economist Julie Smith estimated in 1992 that breast milk is worth about $50 per liter.

Norway is currently the only country that includes human milk output in its annual food production reports.

Modern wet nursing is making a comeback according to this piece at AOL Jobs. Robert Feinstock, the managing director of L.A.-based Certified Household Staffing (which employs more than 1,000 wet nurses), says: “When you see a woman out with a celebrity and her children, many times that’s not a nanny”– it’s actually a wet nurse! Apparently, they are paid a salary of $1,000 weekly.

Breast milk is nature’s medicine cabinet. Besides its primary function of growing humans–and serving as a cold, fever and flu treatment, birth control, a good preventative for allergies, asthma and Chron’s disease, nighttime sedative, risk reducer for Type 2 diabetes, obesity and respiratory illness, and zapper of cancer cells–it also effectively remedies an eye-popping number of other ailments you may not have known about.

  • Ear and eye infections (conjunctivitis), acne, cold sores, nail fungus, chapped lips, chickenpox relief, infection prevention/treatment for small cuts, canker sores, bug bites, hives, leg ulcers, warts, diaper rash, poison ivy/oak rash, instead of saline for nasal congestion, sore throat, and sunburn.
  • It also works better than lanolin for soothing cracked nipples.
  • Cosmetic uses include makeup removal, antiperspirant,  puffy eyes, lotion, soap, and contact lens solution.
  • And I know from personal experience that it works better and quicker as a hangover cure than any amount of coffee or greasy carbs!

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