Relactation: Return to Breastfeeding

True or false, moms: Once you stop breastfeeding you lose your milk forever? The answer is False. It is entirely possible to return to breastfeeding after a lactation gap, and no we’re not talking about having another baby. Relactation is the process of rebuilding your milk supply after having a baby and taking a break from breastfeeding. (This is different than induced lactation, which occurs when a woman builds a milk supply but has never been pregnant.)

If you’re hoping to return to breastfeeding, here’s the scoop on relactation:

Relactation: Return to BreastfeedingWhile there is little research on relactation, statistics show success rates are pretty high when mothers take the proper steps. The factors that influence success are: having a baby four months or younger, having only a short lactation gap, your baby’s willingness to feed at the breast and seeking professional support. First let’s look at how relactation is even possible.

During pregnancy and childbirth, your body is preparing for breastfeeding by mixing up a cocktail of hormones that will produce breast milk. Your breasts are also changing to best meet the needs of your baby’s most nutritious source of food. Once your baby is born, stimulation of the nipple triggers the hormone prolactin, which is necessary to produce breast milk. When you have a lactation gap (and amazingly even if you’ve never been pregnant or given birth), stimulating the nipple is how relactation can occur.

As is typical of all breastfeeding, putting your baby on the breast often and draining the breast as much as possible is critical for relactation. Feeding 10-12 times a day, that’s every 2-3 hours, is usually the best way to jumpstart your milk supply. The more stimulation, the more likely you are to restart the production of milk and build a healthy milk supply. Also make sure your baby is feeding effectively with a good latch.

It is also essential to drain your breasts thoroughly with each feeding. Find your baby’s favorite breastfeeding positions and activities to keep your baby interested and engaged in breastfeeding. Breast compressions – squeezing your breasts to encourage milk to drain – may be helpful and keep a trickle of milk coming so your baby will stay on the breast. Another way to keep your baby on the breast is using a supplemental nursing system that feeds your baby from both the breast and a tube of milk at the same time.

If your baby is not willing or able to drain your breasts, pumping is the next best option. Pumping after or in-between feedings is a good idea if your baby is not feeding as often as you would like. A double electric pump is the most efficient way to express milk besides your baby himself.

Milk supply is often the issue that leads to early weaning. If this is why you stopped breastfeeding in the first place, work hard to not run into the same issue. Besides frequent and thorough feedings, spend as much time with your baby as possible and engage in lots of skin-to-skin contact. You may want to take lactation supplements known as galactagogues, such as fenugreek and blessed thistle, or drink a lactation tea.

Relactation usually takes around one month to achieve. Most moms who are able to relactate work with a professional lactation consultant to strategize the best methods for reestablishing milk supply and ensuring their babies are getting enough nourishment during the process.

Sources: LaLecheLeague, KellyMom, MotherLove and Belly Belly

 

Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction Surgery

As you enter motherhood, you may wonder how your body will react to carrying and nourishing a new life. Women who have had breast reduction surgery are often concerned about their ability to breastfeed. Breastfeeding after breast reduction surgery is possible for many new moms but it is impossible to know if you will be successful until you give it a go.

Here’s what you need to know about breastfeeding after breast reduction surgery:

Breast reduction surgery is medically known as reduction mammaplasty and is the surgical procedure for removing excess fat, tissue and skin from the breast to create a bust size more proportionate to a woman’s body. The procedure may sever some or all of a woman’s milk-producing ducts and glands as well as damage nerves in the breasts, which is why breastfeeding after breast reduction surgery is questionable.

Breastfeeding After Breast Reduction SurgeryUsually, if there is feeling in the nipple and the nipple and areola are still attached to the breast tissue beneath them, some amount of breastfeeding is possible. It’s when the nipple is removed and reattached to a reconstructed breast when breastfeeding is unlikely. Beyond the need for milk ducts and glands to flow towards the nipple, nerves in the breast are required for stimulating prolactin and oxytocin, the hormones responsible for lactation. While many new moms never feel their let downs, stimulation of the nipple is necessary for them to occur and allow the free flow of milk to the nipple.

If you’ve had breast reduction surgery in the past, you’ll have to wait and see if you are able to breastfeed once your baby arrives. It’s wise to prepare as if breastfeeding will be possible by reading about it, taking a class and buying supplies that will make nursing more comfortable for you.

Let your doctor and pediatrician know about your breast reduction surgery so they are best able to help you navigate breastfeeding. You may need extra support from a lactation consultant and you’ll want to be extremely vigilant that your baby is getting enough milk for proper growth. Breastfeeding after breast reduction surgery may result in a low milk supply that may not be adequate for your baby. Remember, even if exclusive breastfeeding is not possible, small amounts of breast milk will provide your baby with vital antibodies to help her remain healthy in early infancy.

If you are considering breast reduction surgery before you’ve had children, most experts agree you should try to wait until after breastfeeding to have this or any other surgical procedures on your breasts. However, sometimes breast surgery is medically necessary prior to having children, in which case you should discuss your desire to have a baby and breastfeed with your surgeon. There are no guarantees breastfeeding after breast reduction surgery is possible, but your surgeon can make every effort to try to leave milk ducts and breast nerves in tact. Also, it is believed that women who have had their breast surgeries more than five years before having children are more likely to successfully breastfeed.

Sources: La Leche League, Baby Center and Cleveland Clinic

 

Born to Breastfeed

Born to BreastfeedGrowing a tiny being and then sustaining it through breast milk is nothing short of a miracle. The biological and evolutionary factors that have led to these phenomena are extraordinary and mind-blowing. As a mother, your body transforms into a beautiful haven to embrace and support your baby. Then, when your baby is just moments old he instinctually knows how to breastfeed as his first act of love and survival in life. Is this truly amazing or what? Today we’re looking at the ways your baby was born to breastfeed.

Food and love top the list of your baby’s most basic needs and he probably has figured that out from the second he was born. Sometimes just minutes after entering the world babies prove they were born to breastfeed by crawling to their mother’s breast for their first feeding. If you’ve ever witnessed it, there is no denying, it’s a remarkable act.

Many physical aspects of your baby’s body were strategically designed to make breastfeeding easier. As if manufactured for precision and efficiency, your baby was born to breastfeed. Check out how…

  • Your baby’s nose is tiny and flat, exactly what is needed to be able to comfortably breathe while breastfeeding. As you can imagine, a large nose would make breastfeeding rather difficult.
  • Your baby’s disproportionally large tongue and fatty cheeks help position the mouth and tongue for proper latch and sucking.
  • Your baby’s short airway encourages milk to go down the esophagus rather than the windpipe when in a lying position and helps your baby extend his neck for feeding.
  • Your baby’s eyesight is just the distance between his eyes and your face while breastfeeding. Not a coincidence!
  • Your baby can smell the unique scent of your breast milk in order to find his food source. Babies can even differentiate their own mother’s milk from someone else’s.
  • Breastfeeding encourages closeness so your baby will remain warm and feel safe. This skin-to-skin contact warms your baby and offers a sense of security. Your baby’s heartbeat may sync with yours as well. All of this promotes less fussiness and more calmness.
  • Breastfeeding strengthens the bond between you and your baby. By being close and feeding often, you and your baby will learn each other for a deep connection.
  • Your baby has a natural instinct to suck and your nipple is most satisfying. Suckling from your breast not only yields nutrients, but it is also relaxing and may help your baby sleep better.
  • Breast milk contains hundreds of essential nutrients that support your baby’s best health including strengthening your baby’s immune system, helping organs develop properly, and stabilizing your baby blood sugar levels.
  • Breast milk is extremely pure and is the easiest first food for your baby to digest so he will reap the most benefits from the nutrients it offers and experience less digestive issues.
  • The health benefits of breastfeeding last for a lifetime. It’s the easiest and best way to give your baby the best start to a long and healthy life.

Breastfeeding is natural in every way because babies were born to breastfeed!

Sources: Women’s Health, Parents and YouTube

Breastfeeding and Breast Preference 2

Breastfeeding and Breast Preference 2Your baby’s breast preference is not cause for major concern. As long as you are breastfeeding when your baby shows signs of hunger, she’s growing properly and soiling diapers, your baby is likely getting plenty of milk, even if it is primarily from one breast. Yet still, some mothers become uncomfortable in the less frequently used breast or may not like their new lopsided silhouette.

Earlier this week we discussed reasons for breast preference including milk supply, let downs, nipple differences, taste of breast milk, preferred positions, and a pain or injury your baby may be experiencing. Today we’re sharing ways to encourage your baby to nurse from both breasts and how you can even up your breasts if she continues to show breast preference.

Ways to Encourage Nursing on Both Breasts

If your baby’s breast preference bothers you, try these ways to encourage nursing on both breasts:

  • Offer the less frequently nursed breast first. Babies generally nurse more vigorously when they begin a breastfeeding session because that is when they are hungriest. This may help increase your milk supply and speed up let downs. Offering the less preferred breast first may work best when your baby is sleepy – either just after waking or before a nap or bedtime – when she is not keenly aware of which side she’s nursing.
  • Offer the less frequently nursed breast more often. Nurse your baby on the less preferred side twice per feeding, sandwiched by the more preferred side. If you only nurse from one breast at a time, start with the less preferred breast twice as often.
  • Find a more comfortable position. If your baby doesn’t like nursing on one side because you believe she’s uncomfortable, try a different nursing position for that side. Alternatively, try to switch from the preferred breast to the less preferred breast with as little repositioning as possible.
  • Distract your baby while nursing. Rocking, walking, singing or wearing your baby while nursing from the less preferred breast may help distract your baby and encourage more productive breastfeeding.
  • Work to balance your milk supply. Building up your milk supply in the less preferred breast may be the best solution to breast preference. This requires extra breastfeeding and pumping on that breast. On the flip side, if engorgement or a forceful let down is causing the breast preference, express milk from that side before a feeding to make it easier for your baby to latch and feed.
  • Use a nipple shield. Inverted or otherwise altered nipples can cause breast preference. If necessary, use a nipple shield on the less desirable side.

How to Counteract Breast Preference

So your baby is very stubborn, eh? That’s OK! As we mentioned, it is more about your potential discomfort – due to engorgement or appearance – than a true problem. The best solution for a baby who will not nurse from one breast is to pump that breast more often. This will help in several ways: First, frequent pumping will prevent you from becoming engorged, which can lead to plugged ducts that may cause mastitis. You definitely don’t want that! Secondly, pumping may increase your milk supply and help resolve the breast preference issue altogether. And lastly, pumping will ensure you have extra milk on hand if you feel your baby is still hungry after breastfeeding on her preferred side.

Bottom line: Don’t stress about your baby’s breast preference. Follow these suggestions to encourage your baby to nurse on both sides and when all else fails, pump!

Sources: KellyMom, Breastfeeding-Problems, and BabyCenter

Breastfeeding and Breast Preference 1

Breastfeeding and Breast Preference 1Breastfeeding may have you feeling a little off balance if your baby has a distinct breast preference. Preferring one side over another is common although some babies feel more strongly about it than others. While completely normal, you may be able to subdue your baby’s breast preference during breastfeeding to help prevent plugged ducts and lopsidedness.

First we should note that there is no nutritional problem with your baby having a breast preference. In fact, it may actually benefit your baby because she will likely nurse through to the fattier hind milk that is important for your baby’s growth and development. However, if breast preference causes pain or an infection in your less frequently used breast, or if a lopsided appearance bothers you, you may want to work to even things up a bit.

Today we’re exploring reasons your baby may have a breast preference while breastfeeding and later this week we’ll offer suggestions to keep your breasts more balanced and encourage your baby to nurse on both sides.

Reasons for Breast Preference

As you are discovering, your baby is an intricate being and perhaps rather opinionated. Her likes and dislikes may emerge in small ways at first including breast preference. After all, she spends quite a bit of time breastfeeding so she’s bound to exert some control of the situation eventually.

Milk Supply or Let Downs

Breast preference can be the result of the difference in milk supply or let downs between your breasts. Just like your hands, feet, eyes and ears differ slightly, the same anatomical asymmetry exists in your breasts. The internal mechanisms that help produce breast milk vary from side to side, which can cause milk supply to be higher or lower or let downs to be faster or slower. Most babies will prefer the side with more milk unless engorgement makes it too difficult for the baby to latch. Some babies prefer a slower let down that won’t overwhelm them with too much milk at once. (Mothers who have had breast surgery may experience lower milk supply in that breast.)

Nipple Differences

The means of suckling breast milk – your nipples – may also be a factor. You’ve probably noticed that your nipples differ in shape and size. Chances are your baby notices too and this may be a reason for her breast preference. Nipple differences change the way a baby latches and is able to secure milk. The easier it is for her to latch, the more she’ll enjoy that breast.

Breast Milk Flavor

The flavor of your breast milk can be altered in breasts individually if you have mastitis (an infected plugged duct) or if a capillary bursts on one side and blood leaks into your milk supply. These situations can cause milk to taste saltier, which your baby may not enjoy.

Preferred Positions

On the other hand, breast preference may have nothing to do with your body at all. Rather, it may have something to do with your baby. Babies come to enjoy being held a certain way, whether due to the mother’s holding style or simply a natural preference. Nursing in a more comfortable position for your baby may lead to breast preference.

Pain or Injury

Also, if your baby has a medical reason to prefer being positioned a certain way, she may rather lie that way for breastfeeding too. For example, an ear infection in one ear may make it painful for your baby to lie on that side. The same can be true if your baby has a neck injury or pain at an immunization site. Or an undetected birth injury or defect can also result in breast preference due to positioning.

Understanding the cause of your baby’s breast preference may help as you strategize a solution. Later this week we’ll review ways to encourage nursing on both breasts and what you can do if your baby refuses to nurse on one side.

Sources: KellyMom, Breastfeeding-Problems, and BabyCenter

Breastfeeding and Newborn Poop

Breastfeeding and Newborn PoopWhen you think about all the incredible things you’re excited to experience with your baby, changing poopy diapers is probably not on your list. However, your newborn’s poop can tell you a lot about their health, especially when you are breastfeeding. Today we’re exploring breastfeeding and newborn poop.

It’s amazing the things you’re willing to talk about openly when you become a mother…like poop, for example. Poop is a regular topic of conversation among new moms, from how often it happens, to how to avoid blowouts. There is a wide range of normal when it comes to newborn poop including the frequency, consistency and odor. But there are still some general norms when it comes to breastfeeding and newborn poop, which can help you determine if your baby is consuming enough nutrients and is digesting milk properly.

Here’s the scoop on breastfeeding and newborn poop:

Odor

Here’s a win for breastfed babies – their newborn poop really doesn’t smell bad. Breast milk is incredibly pure and so is your baby’s body. The combination creates little to no smell in newborn poop. In general, the longer poop stays in the intestines, the smeller it will be. Newborns poop so frequency, their poop doesn’t spend much time in the digestive tract and is less odoriferous.

Color and Consistency

For the first couple of days after birth all babies excrete meconium, which is a tar-like brownish green substance made up of amniotic fluid and other things your baby came by naturally in the womb.

After about two or three days newborn poop changes in color and consistency. It is common for newborn poop to appear like mushy, seedy mustard with some curds in it and then it will change to more green or brown poop over time. Newborn poop is watery, of course, due to your baby’s all-liquid diet and it will stay that way for the four to six months you exclusively breastfeed.  Some parents confuse this for diarrhea but thin, liquidy poop is normal.

Because breastfed babies are taking in what their mothers are eating, the nutrients and proteins differ daily. Therefore, poop on one day may look different from poop on another day. This variety is healthy for your baby.

Frequency

Babies can poop as often as 10 times a day or as little as once a week. The spectrum is that broad! Breastfed newborns usually poop once per feeding for the first few weeks of life. This is to allow room for more food to enter your baby’s tiny digestive system. The poop may be very little, a few squirts in fact. This is a testament to the perfect nutrients in your breast milk and how easily your baby can absorb it and use it efficiently in her body. After a month or so your baby will have less bowel movements. This is a sign of mature milk.

Issues

Log-like or pebble-like poop may indicate constipation and/or dehydration. Speak to your pediatrician if you notice this consistency. Also, if you think your baby is experiencing pain during pooping or from not being able to poop, consult your doctor. Sometimes massaging the anus with a q-tip or gently rotating your baby’s legs and opening them wide can help stimulate a bowel movement.

Bright green bubbly poop may indicate that your baby is not getting enough fat in your breast milk. Be sure you’re feeding as long as possible on each breast so your baby gets to the fattier milk that is known as hind milk. This fat is essential to your baby’s growth and development.

If your breastfed baby isn’t pooping frequently and is not gaining weight, talk to your pediatrician to ensure your baby is indeed getting enough milk. Your doctor may recommend a visit to a lactation consultant to ensure your breastfeeding success.

Also, if you do believe your baby has diarrhea, talk to your pediatrician. Diarrhea in newborns can be a sign of an infection, allergy or digestive disorder. It’s best to have it checked right away.

Sources: WebMD, Parents and BabyCenter

Nipple Preference or Nipple Confusion

Babies were born to breastfeed. It is one of the few things full term babies know how to do the instant they are born. If you ever doubt this, watch videos of newborns who instinctively find their mother’s breasts and start suckling. It is nothing short of amazing. Nipple preference, sometimes called nipple confusion, may come into play if a baby shows more interest in a bottle or pacifier than nursing from the breast. Today we’re taking a look at nipple preference and how to avoid it.

Nipple preference usually occurs when a baby is unsuccessful at getting breast milk during nursing and instead is given a bottle where nourishment is readily available. Interestingly, it’s not that babies actually prefer a bottle nipple, but rather they are getting better results from it. Feeding directly from the breast is actually a baby’s first preference.

Nipple Preference or Nipple ConfusionThe American Academy of Pediatrics recommends not offering bottles – even of breast milk – for at least the first four weeks of a baby’s life. This helps solidify a breastfeeding routine by allowing mothers to establish a healthy milk supply and babies to feel confident in latching and in the comfort they get from breastfeeding. Introducing a bottle too early, whether it is because milk supply is low or out of convenience, can lead to nipple preference.

Milk supply takes time to develop. For the first few days after birth a mother produces colostrum, which is a thick paste-like substance that can sustain babies until their mother’s milk comes in. Although milk usually arrives within a few days of birth, it is not considered mature milk until three weeks after birth. Some moms experience low milk supply from the beginning, which may lead to bottle feedings earlier than four weeks. Other complications such as sore nipples and difficulty latching, or the emotional toll of having a new baby (including need for sleep and feeling frustrated that breastfeeding isn’t going smoothly), may also lead to early bottle feeding.

Bottle feedings can cause nipple preference when babies are having a hard time getting milk during breastfeeding and are better able to retrieve milk from bottles. However, bottle feedings can exacerbate breastfeeding problems because they interfere with the supply and demand process of milk supply and gets the baby out of the habit of feeding from the breast. Then breastfeeding vs. bottle feeding becomes a vicious cycle and can lead to early weaning.

Some people argue pacifiers can also cause nipple preference and should not be introduced until four weeks once breastfeeding is well-established. Like bottle nipples, pacifiers require a different mouth and tongue position than breastfeeding and may interfere with latch.

If you feel your baby is experiencing nipple preference work to increase your milk supply so your baby can get back to his instinctual desire to breastfeed. You can boost your milk supply by breastfeeding often (on-demand), emptying your breasts completely during feedings, not skipping a feeding by offering a bottle, eating a healthy lactation diet and pumping as necessary. Also ensure your baby has a proper latch so he can nurse effectively. If you run into breastfeeding problems, visit a lactation consultant right away to resolve them so you can stay on track.

Once your breastfeeding routine is well established occasional bottles and pacifier use is fine. If you are returning to work or need to be away from your baby regularly, gradually build up to more frequent breast milk bottle feedings. Be sure to pump whenever your baby has a bottle to keep your milk supply strong t avoid future nipple preference.

Sources: Ask Dr. Sears, BabyCenter and KellyMom

 

How to Improve the Quality of your Breast Milk

How to Improve the Quality of your Breast MilkAlthough breast milk has the same general nutritional make-up from mother to mother, there are some difference based on the mother’s diet, behaviors and habits surrounding breastfeeding. Surprisingly, it may be breastfeeding practices that are more effective at increasing the fat content of breast milk, but diet may change the types of fats that make up breast milk. Today we’re reviewing how to improve the quality of your breast milk.

Keep in mind that the biggest indicator of your baby’s growth when it comes to breast milk is the volume she is receiving, not the exact fat and calorie content. So even though you can improve the quality of your breast milk, for pure growth purposes, ensuring your baby is getting plenty of it is most important.

Your Diet and Your Breast Milk

Every mother’s breast milk make-up is different, which is somewhat related to your diet, and somewhat dependant upon how your body makes milk. However, moms need a wholesome diet to have enough energy to make breast milk, not to mention take care of an infant. Therefore getting plenty of protein, eating plant foods like fruits, vegetables and whole grains, and staying hydrated are essential.

Also, eating healthy fats helps determine the quality of fat in your breast milk. Saturated fats are unhealthy and can lead to high cholesterol, high blood pressure and a variety of cardiovascular problems for you and your baby. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and essential fatty acids found in many whole foods like nuts, natural oils, avocados and fish are much better choices to improve the quality of your breast milk.

Prenatal Vitamins and Your Breast Milk

Your doctor probably advised you to continue taking prenatal vitamins while breastfeeding. That’s because it is not only a broad spectrum multi-vitamin, it also contains critical nutrients that your baby needed in the womb and still needs now like folate, iron, calcium, Vitamin D and DHA. While you are likely getting some of these in your regular diet, supplementing is a great way to improve the quality of your breast milk.

Breast Emptiness and Your Breast Milk

Empty breasts produce fattier milk. That’s why it is important for you to drain your breasts fully during feedings and to encourage your baby to feed frequently and for long enough to get to the hind milk. When your breasts are full, there is more foremilk, which contains less fat. Hind milk comes later in feedings and is packed of nutritious fats for your baby.

Breast Compressions and Your Breast Milk

Interestingly, massaging and performing breast compressions can increase the fat content of your breast milk. It helps dislodge the sticky fats in hind milk that get stuck to milk ducts so it is more readily available to your baby.

Breast milk is best for your baby no matter how you serve it. But improving the quality of your breast milk is like the cherry on top of a really healthy ice cream sundae!

Sources: Parenting Science, Kelly Mom, BabyCenter, American Pregnancy, Joyful Abode and BreastMilk

 

Ways to Keep Your Baby Awake While Breastfeeding

Ways to Keep Your Baby Awake While BreastfeedingThe thought of falling asleep while eating is pretty funny for an adult, but babies are excellent at this skill. Breastfeeding is delightfully pleasing and relaxing. Your baby is suckling, snuggled close and wrapped in the warmth of her favorite person, and her belly is being filled with the most delicious and nutritious breast milk. That’s enough to make anyone fall asleep, especially a tired baby. But sometimes you need to keep your baby awake while breastfeeding to ensure she finishes her meal.

Today we’re sharing ways to keep your baby awake while breastfeeding:

Naked Baby: Stripping your baby down to her diaper may encourage your baby to stay awake. Once she’s out of the warmth of her clothes and swaddle, the cooler air can be stimulating enough. You can still keep her warm with skin-to-skin cuddles.

Talk and Sing: Your baby loves to hear your voice and she may not want to miss a moment of what you have to say. Chatter and sing away to keep her interested in both breastfeeding and your words.

Burp and Switch: Burping your baby every few minutes can interrupt the breastfeeding trance before she falls asleep. You can also switch breasts several times during a feeding to keep her on the move.

Diaper Change: When you need major stimulation to keep your baby awake while breastfeeding, do a diaper change, whether she really needs one or not. Most babies don’t sleep through diaper changes and chances are she’ll stay up for awhile afterwards.

Alone Time: If you know your baby is hungry but continues to doze during a feeding, lie her on a flat surface for a minute or two. She will probably start to fuss and look around for the milk. Just a moment of being upset may be all she needs to stay up for that yummy breast milk.

Tickle: Tickle your baby on different areas of her body. Try her feet and toes, armpits, belly or around her neck and face. This refreshing touch may intrigue your baby enough to stay awake.

Wet Washcloth: When you need extra reinforcements, try the washcloth trick. Pat a damp washcloth on your baby’s feet or neck. The coolness will keep her eyes wide open.

Change the Scene: If a dark, familiar room makes your baby drowsy, try moving the feeding to a brighter, livelier environment. It’s hard to sleep when there s a lot of light and commotion in the background.

Massage the Palm: Using your thumbs, massage your baby’s palms. This is called the Palmer Reflex and may help get your baby ready to eat.

Exercise: Invigorate your baby with a little exercise. Cycle her feet, flap her arms or pull her into a seated position as if she’s doing sit-ups. She probably won’t be able to resist wakefulness during a baby workout.

Sources: KellyMom and My Baby Sleep Guide

Breast Milk Nutrition Part 2

Breast Milk Nutrition Part 2It’s National Nutrition Month so we’re exploring the nutrition in your baby’s breast milk. As your baby’s best first food, breast milk contains a wealth of nutrients that not only help her grow and develop now, but also support her health for a lifetime. That’s why the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 4-6 months of your baby’s life, and continuing to one year or beyond. Today we’re rounding out our discussion of breast milk nutrition by breaking down the most potent categories and explaining their nutritive value.

Water: H2O is essential hydration for your baby since water is a large part of her body composition and she is not getting water from any other source.

Protein: The two types of protein found in breast milk are whey and caseins. Breast milk protein typically contains 60-80% whey, which is much easier for babies to digest than caseins. In comparison, cow’s milk and formula have a higher concentration of caseins that may cause more gastrointestinal problems for babies. Protein helps build muscles and bones and is vital to a strong immune system.

Fat: Fat is crucial to your baby’s growth and development. The fat content in your breast milk changes during each feeding. The foremilk that comes first is rich in carbohydrates (mainly lactose) and water while the hind milk that follows has more fat and therefore calories. That is why feeding on one side until your baby reaches the hind milk is important. Fatty acids and cholesterol help your baby’s brain develop (as well as nervous system and eyes) and are linked to improved cognition among breastfed babies. Fats also aid the absorption of other nutrients such as vitamins and minerals.

Carbohydrates: Lactose or milk sugar is the main carbohydrate found in breast milk. Carbohydrates are used to energize the body for all metabolic functions including growth. Lactose promotes healthy flora in your baby’s gut and can fight off harmful bacteria there as well.  It also helps your baby absorb essential nutrients like calcium, phosphorus and magnesium. Oligosaccharides are another carbohydrate that supports a healthy immune system in the gut as well.

Antibodies: Many of the other categories of breast milk nutrition have protective properties for your baby. Additionally, antibodies help prevent your baby, who has little-to-no immune system at birth, from getting sick. Secretory Immunoglobulin A is the main antibody found in breast milk. It forms a protective barrier in your baby’s intestines and lungs to keep pathogens away from these critical organs and out of the bloodstream.

Enzymes: Enzymes help your baby break down breast milk during digestion so it can be metabolized and put to good use throughout her body. There are around 40 different types of enzymes that have been identified in breast milk including lactoferrin, lipase, amylase and protease.

Vitamins and Minerals: Breast milk is rich in vitamins and minerals that help your baby with nearly every function of her tiny little body. The alphabet of vitamins including A, B, C, D, E and K are swimming around in your breast milk. Minerals include calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, zinc and chloride, among others.

Hormones: Scientists are not positive about the purpose of hormones in breast milk but there are many of them including prolactin, relaxin, endorphins and thyroid hormones, among others. Some of these are required for milk production, while others are a natural part of a woman’s body or may have helped during the reproductive and childbirth stages.

Sources: Parenting Science, Very Well, Baby Center, American Pregnancy and Rehydrate