Every breastfeed is a success

“I popped into the doctors’ to have my toddlers cough checked,” says Kate, mother of a just turned two year old. “I mentioned to the GP that I was still breastfeeding and was completely speechless when she told me, “you know there is no goodness in your milk after three months.”

On the other hand, there are mothers like Emma who are completely devastated when weaning happens early because of medical issues. Emma says, “I tried and tried to breastfeed for three months but I battled low supply and ended up with postnatal depression.  During this time, I was topping my baby up with formula and everyone kept telling me that the formula meant he wouldn’t be getting any protection from the breast milk, so it wasn’t worth stressing myself.”

 Actually, however long you breastfeed or how much breast-milk you are able to give your baby, this magic potion made by mums is like medicine. It helps protect your baby against nasty bugs from coughs and colds to tummy bugs: breast milk is like a daily vaccination against every bug your baby comes in contact with: it is a living fluid containing healthy bacteria, antibodies, white blood cells, antimicrobials and cell wall protectors and proteins that offer protection against bacteria and viruses. If you catch a bug, specialised white blood cells will appear in your breast milk to protect your baby. Conversely, if your baby becomes sick, the transfer of germs from baby to your breast will trigger the production of specific antibodies. These antibodies will be deposited into your milk to boost your baby’s immunity and help her fight off illness.

 And, it’s not just the milk your baby drinks that can boost her health and make her feel better – mothers the world over have used breast-milk as a cure-all for minor aches and pains:  with a few squirts, you can soothe rashes and itchy bites, relieve sunburn, unblock snotty noses and fix conjunctivitis. Some health practitioners even advise treating ear infections with a few squirts of breast milk every hour or two.

Some of the most recent research about human milk affirms that using breast-milk to fix these common ailments isn’t just the basis of old wives’ tales.  Studies into the antibacterial agents of mother’s milk reveal that breast milk has the ability to kill tumour cells and bacteria.   Your magic mother’s milk can kill 40 different types of cancer cells and has been shown to help reverse antibiotic resistance.  It’s all about a protein  in breast milk, ‘Human Alpha-lactalbumin Made Lethal to Tumor cells’ (known as HAMLET).

According to researchers at the University of Buffalo HAMLET can help treat people with those nasty superbugs that cause pneumonia, MRSA, and staph infections and when HAMLET was recently tested on patients who had bladder cancer, after each treatment, the patients’ urine was tested to reveal that the dead cancer cells were excreted. HAMLET did not affect healthy cells.

Contrary to advice such as that offered by Kate’s doctor, as long as you are breastfeeding, your milk is providing your child with essential proteins, nutrients antibodies and other protective substances and will continue to do so for as long as you continue nursing. In fact, some immune factors actually become more concentrated during the second year of life – right when your baby becomes mobile enough to play with other children and is exposed to a greater array of bugs!

 If you, like Emma, find yourself confronted with challenges that may mean you breastfed for a shorter time, it may help to think of breast milk as medicine. Every drop is protection for your baby’s health.   In fact, according to a brand new breastfeeding report by Save the Children, “Super Food for Babies,” 830,000 babies’ lives can be saved worldwide if they are breastfed within the critical first hour after birth.”

Perhaps, instead of judging  yourself or allowing others to judge you around the length of time you breastfeed, snuggle your precious baby against your bare skin, nuzzle into that soft downy head, breathe in  and remember, ‘every breastfeed is a success.’

Breastfeeding gives your baby and you:

 The first hour:–baby receives colostrum, the most effective and potent immune system-boosting on the planet. This first feed stabilises baby’s blood sugar and protects his gut.

 The first day : the slightly laxative effects of colostrum encourage your baby’s first bowel motion; helps seal his gut against foreign proteins (gut closure); boosts your baby’s immune system and helps your uterus to contract, reducing bleeding and aiding recovery after birth.

The fourth day: you have now given your baby his first “immunisation” (antibody-rich colostrum), and helped to get his digestive system running smoothly. Your creamy transitional milk contains high levels of fat, lactose, vitamins and more calories than the colostrum.

 The first month: your baby is receiving perfect nutrition and immunity and because mother’s milk is so easy to digest, breastfeeding means he won’t be uncomfortable due to constipation. By exclusively breastfeeding for at least 1 month you have given your baby significant protection against food allergy at 3 years of age.

Six weeks: you have eased your baby through the most critical part of his infancy –new-borns who are not breastfed are much more likely to get sick or be hospitalized, and have more digestive problems than breastfed babies.  Breastfeeding for 6 weeks means that your child now has less risk of chest infections up to 7 years old.

Two months: Your child now has a lower risk of food allergy at 3 years old and, if you immunise your baby, breastfeeding boosts your baby’s antibody response to immunisations, strengthening the effectiveness of the vaccine. Nursing during injections will also offer comfort and pain relief.

Three months: Now, you have given your baby a 27 percent reduction in the risk of asthma if you have no family history of asthma and a 40 percent reduction if you have a family history of asthma. You have also given your baby between a 19 and 27 percent reduction in incidence of childhood Type 1 Diabetes.

Four months: exclusively breastfeeding for 4 months offers strong protection against ear infections and respiratory tract diseases for the first year.

Six months: By breastfeeding for 6 months you have given your baby significant protection against eczema during their first 3 years  as well as a 19 percent decrease in risk of childhood acute lymphocytic leukemia and a 15 percent decrease in the risk of acute myelogenous leukemia.

Twelve months:  Many of the health benefits you have given your baby so far will last his entire life – he will have a stronger immune system, reduced risks of obesity and heart disease as an adult, as well as healthy oral development, meaning less likelihood that he will need orthodontia or speech therapy.

Beyond one year: Breastfeeding toddlers between 16 and 30 months old have been found to have fewer types and shorter duration of illness and to require less medical care than their non-breastfeeding peers. Some of the immune factors in your breast milk will increase in concentration during this second year. According to La Leche League, an international organisation supporting breastfeeding, “It takes between two and six years for a child’s immune system to fully mature. Human milk continues to complement and boost the immune system for as long as it is offered.”

Pinky McKay is an IBCLC Lactation Consultant and best selling author of Parenting by Heart and Sleeping Like a Baby. She is also the creator of Boobie Bikkies, all natural and organic superfood lactation cookies . Download Pinky’s FREE ebook Making More Mummy Milk, Naturally’

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  • Christine

    Love your article, I agree that breastfeeding need not be “all or nothing” and that every drop is precious. Would you mind sharing a citation of your sources? I’d especially like to read a published paper on breastmilk helping to prevent asthma.

  • Nae

    Great article!
    I breastfed my son until he weaned himself at 14 months and I think it was because I was pregnant at the time and maybe my milk had changed? I wish I could have breastfed him for longer because as soon as he stopped he kept getting sick from all the bugs he picked up at day care and he was constantly sick for about 6 months or so. I am still breastfeeding my 9 month old daughter and plan to continue to do so for as long as possible as I just love the fact that it’s providing her with all the nutrients she needs to thrive.

  • Lisa Bridger

    I’m still breastfeeding my near 3 year old and 7 month old son, we recently had man flu go through the house, teenage boys really sick me really sick, breastfeeding boys head cold for 3 days, this milk stuff is awesome, I’ve been breastfeeding on and off for 18 years, added up I’ve fed for 8 years so far

  • Yarni

    Always love your articles. Filled with support & love, it’s always the boost I need, right when I need it. It’s almost like intuition!! Thank you. x

    • Janus

      Or, maybe the little kid just didn’t catch it. Do it any longer and it’ll be called incest, not breat feeding.

      • Jennifer

        What a disgusting thing to say, Janus.

      • Alissa

        Why are you reading this page if you do not agree? No reason to be so hateful.

        • Lisa Bridger

          Thank you all, it’s certainly not incest, my boys are living proof that extended breastfeeding is awesome, anyone that doesn’t like it can look elsewhere, I refuse to take offence from misinformed people

      • Lisa Bridger

        I refuse to be offered by misinformed people like you, you are welcome to your options but I don’t think a forum / article like this is a place for you.

  • Alissa

    I am going to print this for her pediatrician who says there is no nutritional value after one!

  • Tobie

    My son is 30 years old and he breast fed for 5 years. He does not remember being on the breast. He has not been inoculated and travels the world for work. He is a successful healthy man! He was 18 pounds when he was 5 1/2 months old. He had not had water, a pacifier or food yet. His teeth came in at 6 months and he started on food. He was in a family bed till 2 years of age and transitioned to his own bed. He never had baby food, a bottle, or a pacifier. Every 10 years we all do it different. Back then we were all doing home births, extended nursing and child centered parenting. To each his own!!!

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  • hoc nghe phun xam

    Four months: exclusively breastfeeding for 4 months offers strong protection against ear infections and respiratory tract diseases for the first year.

  • Ella

    As a mum who was EBF and now has to switch to formula after being diagnosed with PND this post has made me feel like I am not a complete failure. I have managed to BF for almost 4 months and I am so glad to know that even though I can’t continue I have given my LO a great start.

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