10 Things You Might Not Know About Breastfeeding

We've listed some things you don't know about breastfeeding

Go beyond the basics of breastfeeding. We’ve compiled a list of 10 facts you may not have known about the practice of breastfeeding, and the info needs to be out there!

Thankfully, breastfeeding is increasingly promoted these days. More and more evidence shows the importance of feeding babies this complete, species-specific food. We know that breast milk is full of living vitamins and minerals, but here are some things you *might* not know about breastfeeding.

1. Breastfeeding can be hard. No, not always! Some women have an easy time with it, and that’s always such a gift. But breastfeeding is something of a lost art in our society, and because of this, it might be a challenge at first. Many of us no longer grow up witnessing breastfeeding, which has historically been a natural learning tool. Breastfeeding can come with quite a learning curve for both mom and baby. When I had my first baby, I was surprised by how unhelpful newborns are with the whole experience. It’s something like trying to handle a floppy octopus, until you really get the hang of it. And, I never forget what my amazing lactation consultant told me: “Breastfeeding is the most unnatural natural thing in the world.” If we’re really honest, it’s true. And, we need to be really honest about that so mamas who struggle don’t feel so much despair that they want to give up. With that in mind…

2. You should spend your pregnancy preparing to breastfeed. Most moms plan to breastfeed, but few of us prepare accordingly. Due to its nature as a lost art, being armed with knowledge about the importance of breastfeeding, as well as how to do it and troubleshoot if necessary, has become essential. The number of times I’ve seen, read, and heard of a new mom’s breastfeeding relationship getting derailed due to various, often preventable “booby traps” is innumerable. It almost happened to me. When my first baby was born, I didn’t know how to get him latched on; I figured it would come naturally. For the next few days, the experience was so painful, I almost gave up. The only reason I persevered was because of what I had learned during pregnancy about the importance of breastfeeding, and I am eternally grateful that I made it through the rough patch. I have written a step-by-step guide to avoiding these common booby traps, to help parents prepare as I wish I would have.

3. Breastfeeding affects the human microbiome. What is the human microbiome? The microbiome is the collection of bacteria, fungi, and archaea that humans carry around. While this might not sound particularly healthy, the human microbiome happens to be essential to overall physical and mental health. If the words “gut health” and “probiotics” sound familiar to you, you’ve likely heard at least a little about the incredible importance of healthy bacteria. The microbiome is its own ecosystem and keeping it in balance affects everything from obesity to anxiety and depression. Increasing evidence is showing the crucial importance of keeping this bacteria in balance, and breastfeeding promotes this right from the start. Breast milk is full of healthy bacteria, which helps protect the delicate gut flora of your baby.

4. Breast milk is made differently for boys vs. girls. Some interesting news in the ever-growing pool of knowledge about breast milk: it may have a different composition based on the sex of the child. Researchers have found that humans and other mammals produce milk that changes composition depending on the level of income and safety within the family, and this influences which sex is favored with higher fat content milk. Our bodies are wiser than we can fathom.

5.  Kissing your baby changes your breast milk. Did you know that the undeniable urge to cover your baby in kisses serves a biological purpose? When a mother kisses her baby, she samples the pathogens on baby’s face, which then travel to mom’s lymphatic system. Mom’s body then creates antibodies to fight those pathogens, which baby receives through breast milk. What?! Amazing, right? When my son and I both got H1N1 (he was 8-months-old), our physicians called us the poster people for breastfeeding. I was running near 105* temperatures and pretty much miserable; still I nursed. My little guy, on the other hand, had some explosive poops and a bit of a runny nose, but otherwise? Unscathed. They couldn’t believe how happy and jolly he was, but told me that it was a testament to the power of breastmilk and my antibodies protecting him.

6. Men can lactate! Yes, it’s true. Men have the appropriate breast tissue to lactate, but since they do not experience the hormonal changes that come with pregnancy and help produce breast milk, a man would have to spend a great deal of time pumping and using galactagogues in order to make sufficient breast milk. But it has been done.

7. Breastfeeding helps prevent postpartum hemorrhaging. Research has shown that skin-to-skin contact and breastfeeding after birth has such an effect on postpartum bleeding that women who did not have skin-to-skin breastfeeding immediately postpartum were almost twice as likely to experience postpartum hemorrhaging.

8. Your breast milk changes during each feed. Children often approach the breast in a furor of thirst, and your breast milk is prepared for that. When your milk begins to let down, you first produce foremilk, which is watery and has more ability to hydrate your baby. After your baby has nursed for a bit and has their thirst quenched, your milk then changes to hindmilk, which is thicker and has higher fat content, meeting baby’s energy needs. And, your breastmilk changes as your baby grows and develops. Take a look at your stash in the freezer. The milk you make today does not look like or act like the milk you made in those early days of nursing. And, it won’t look that way in a few months, either, because again, our babies tell us what they need from our milk and we adjust as needed via Mother Nature.

9. Breast milk has the power to neutralize HIV. In 2012, researchers at Duke University Medical Center isolated antibodies from B cells in breast milk, which “can generate neutralizing antibodies that may inhibit the virus that causes AIDS.” The findings were discovered in an effort to learn why only 1 in 1o HIV positive mothers transmits HIV to her baby via breast milk, when breastfeeding provides so much exposure.

10. Breastfeeding for at least 6 months can save millions of lives. UNICEF estimates that if more mothers breastfed exclusively for at least 6 months (preferably followed by at least 2 years of breastfeeding with complementary foods), over a million lives could be saved every year. Currently, only 39% of babies worldwide are breastfed exclusively for at least 6 months, which is why efforts to normalize breastfeeding and support lactation education is essential.

As always, our goal is never to shame mothers who cannot nurse for whatever reason. We know that the ability to nurse one’s child is not always a given, and we never want to shame or judge mothers. That said, just as the formula industry has had some not-so-great influence on the way mothers and society in general look at nursing, we feel remiss if we don’t share the truth about breastfeeding benefits. Our intent is always to encourage and empower mothers.

Photo: Natalia Deriabina/Shutterstock

47 thoughts on “10 Things You Might Not Know About Breastfeeding”

  1. If the goal is for mothers to breastfeed for 6 months then maternity leave should be extended to accommodate that. Some of us moms have jobs that are not very conducive for breastfeeding. I know a few mothers who’s milk supply actually stopped and they could no longer breastfeed because they had no time to pump at work. Things need to change in America!!!

    1. The act of suckling involves more than just the sucking that a pump can do. This is why pumping is not as effective and many women can still have difficulty even though they are pumping. http://www.thestranger.com/features/feature/2015/08/26/22755273/the-more-i-learn-about-breast-milk-the-more-amazed-i-am Direct quote from another excellent article: “According to Hinde, when a baby suckles at its mother’s breast, a vacuum is created. Within that vacuum, the infant’s saliva is sucked back into the mother’s nipple, where receptors in her mammary gland read its signals. This “baby spit backwash,” as she delightfully describes it, contains information about the baby’s immune status. Everything scientists know about physiology indicates that baby spit backwash is one of the ways that breast milk adjusts its immunological composition. If the mammary gland receptors detect the presence of pathogens, they compel the mother’s body to produce antibodies to fight it, and those antibodies travel through breast milk back into the baby’s body, where they target the infection.” Imagine now, how much other information those two bodies are synchronizing with a breastfeeding latch as opposed to a milk pump. Information about the foods you are eating directly – perhaps sharing too… milk that you pumped days ago will be outdated information. Not as helpful from a biological standpoint. Sucking is not suckling. And the bruising that comes with a pump, does not happen when a baby suckles.

      1. Sorry Blair, I tried to respond to a different comment about pump suck. Something (or someone*) must’ve clicked by mistake while I was trying to respond… 🙁

    1. Could someone please explain this quote from the article: “Humans and other mammals produce milk that changes composition depending on the level of income and safety within the family, and this influences which sex is favored with higher fat content milk.”

      I’ve read it 3 times and it makes no sense.


      1. Lori, click through to the article she references. The changes relate to the level of security the mother is experiencing, which can be closely tied to income or physical safety. Hope that helps! 🙂

  2. From everything I’ve read the majority of the benefits are in the milk itself. So I can’t see any reason (based on scientific research) why you can’t achieve all of the same benefits if you pump your own milk and feed it to your baby while holding your baby’s head against your breast. The act of sucking on the nipple cannot be necessary.
    Tl;Dr-> breast milk = awesome. Breastfeeding=unnecessary.

    1. The bonding is equally as important. Babies know the difference between a bottle and a breast hence the reason breastfed babies struggle to take bottles. A baby, versus pump, breastfeeding also serves health purposes for the mother-endorphins to help with PPD, support in shrinking uterus back, etc. Also, the pump is not as efficient as a baby. The baby is capable of getting out more of the nutrient rich hind milk than a pump. So, please don’t determine the importance of physical breastfeeding unless you are fully educated on the matter.

    2. I might also add the “act of sucking on the nipple” is in fact necessary whether pumping or nursing-how do you think the pump extracts the milk? By asking politely? No. 🙂

    3. you should tell this to my baby, she doesn’t take any bottle… I have a collection of them at home, she just wants her mommy! I’ve used bottles since day 1 but one day she just decided breast is better LOL It’s not that fun though ’cause I can’t leave her for more than a couple hours, but this should tell you that babies know the difference. And this issue is more common than I thought, thank God I can stay home with her.

    4. You on obviously don’t know much about breastfeeding nor did you read the whole article. It is CLEARLY known that the skin-to-skin contact is vita for many reasons all it’s own as well as being vita to the breastfeeding process itself.

    5. Well arent you a peach, and I quote ”
      Tl;Dr-> breast milk = awesome. Breastfeeding=unnecessary”
      Just When I think I have seen the most uninformed completely ignorant thing on the internet BAM there is Peach with this bit of bullshit that has slipped past the common sense sensors
      The act of sucking on the nipple causes the milk to let down, NO YOU DONT GET THE SAME AMOUNT OF MILK IF YOU PUMP.OR the benefits that come with it the bonding between a mother and a child, It releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps your uterus return to its pre-pregnancy size and may reduce uterine bleeding after birth. Breastfeeding also lowers your risk of breast and ovarian cancer. It may lower your risk of osteoporosis, too.
      “The act of sucking on the nipple cannot be necessary” BAH HA HA HA I STILL CANT GET OVER THIS JEWEL…..yeah right only because EVERY MAMMAL ON THE FACE OF THE EARTH NATURALLY SUCKLES THEIR YOUNG ….ha ha ha OMG I am rolling .ha ha ha

    6. Another difference between pumping and straight from the breast is the babies spit actually goes into your body and let’s you know how and if the milk should change due to having a cold or growing older adapting to baby (milk changes as baby ages that doesn’t happen magically)

    7. Peach,
      Besides all the scientific reasons given above you also fail to see the time requirement that pumping takes. You are basically asking mom to spend double the amount of time to feed her baby (time pumping and time giving the bottle)not to mention the time it takes to disassemble and clean the pump and bottle. Not all moms can pump milk. I can be never get more than an ounce of milk while pumping and sometimes I get none. My baby would starve. Babies are designed to efficiently transfer our milk. The milk in our breasts is readily available and at the perfect temperature and specifically designed for the child. I see it absolutely unnecessary to make it any harder than it was designed to be. Have a great day!

    8. Actually, the act of breastfeeding itself is very necessary. Look up “baby back wash”. Completely real, and the only naturally made antibodies specifically for the baby doing the sucking. This is building the baby’s immune system….

  3. Wow this is great information wish I would have had it many moons ago when I was forced to stop breastfeeding because I was unprepared and equally uneducated in how to get through these “boobs traps” with that being said I still read these articles and educate myself so that when my girls (late teens and early twenties) become mothers I can help get them through hard spots so they can accomplish what I could not!
    Above I seen a woman make a statement within saying research she has read shows it is the milk that is beneficial not the nipple and from there was bashed and in a kinder manner called uneducated to voice a statement….she obviously did do research as she stated she did and maybe had not came across scholarly articles that showed this important connection so instead of doing the above mentioned…MAYBE pointing her to the research to read herself so she could understand could of better proved your point than to dismiss her entirely!
    That was why I was unable to get through the rough spots when breastfeeding the mere mention of anything besides I got it and its great was treated like I was uneducated and just merely not WANTING to breastfeed when I was just trying to understand! Please be kind folks you can educate without being condescending and blatantly rude! Even in the comments you can take the platform you’ve been given to uplift support and educate instead degrade, judge, and persecution those who have a different opinion!
    Once again thank you for this and many other great articles that will help my daughters and many others get through the best (not the only or easiest but the best) way to feed your little ones to make them the healthiest and happiest they can be!

  4. Another difference between pumping and straight from the breast is the babies spit actually goes into your body and let’s you know how and if the milk should change due to having a cold or growing older adapting to baby (milk changes as baby ages that doesn’t happen magically)

  5. Personally I couldn’t breastfeed due to medical reasons but I admire those who do. But only those who do it in a discrete Manor. Those who latch a sitting up baby on like they are being attached to a machine makes me uncomfortable. Why is it necessary to be so obvious. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with this in your own home but when in public or someone else’s home a little decorum wouldn’t go amiss. Most mums are aware but there are some who have jo concept of awareness. I would imagine I’ll get backlash for this but it’s how I and many breast feeding and non breast mums feel. Therefore some of you give us all a bad name.

    1. You can cover your breast while feeding without making your child uncomfortable in anyway. A friend of mines simply draped her childs favorite blanket over her shoulder and breast and the baby would hold the blanket it was quite cute and she kept the blanket for years.modest and in no way uncomfortable. Icould not breastfeed because of being on medications that i could not be without so it broke my heart especially when we found she had an eating disorder and was diagnosed failure to thrive. She lived with a feeding tube for 8yrs. Thank you for all the new findings on breastmilk they are so amazing God has certainly made our bodies with deep complexities,he is so awesome!

    2. ali,

      I promise I will breastfeed in a discrete Manor. I will also breastfeed in my own house, my friends’ houses and the Mall. I will breastfeed in the store, in my car. I will breastfeed everywhere. Cover or no, doesn’t matter. I attempt to use a cover, I used to be quite a prude. However, my 5 month old feels there is much too much going on to miss the action. I’m done being apologetic. When there are nursing rooms in every public space, I’ll hide away. Until then, I will feed my child when he is hungry.

  6. # 9 may be true who can really say. Has it been proven? NOPE! Can it be? NOPE!
    What can be though is the brutal murder of over a million babies a year in the US alone… STOP murdering babies!

    Last but not least, lady. Pop your tits back in your shirt & have some self respect & morales. Is there NOT a law against this? No, I’m not saying stopfeeding your kid. Don’t twist it mr or miss liberal person. You get it! & for God sakes it’s winter in the pic as well. Do like a proper, young, loving, sensible, moral, God fearing mom would do. Put the kids head up under your shirt or but a baby blanket over ya. Pretty sure this isn’t just for the pic as she looks to happy & eager over showing her tits off.
    Just sharing my opinion based off some facts, morales & laws.

    Have a blessed day!
    & don’t forget to breast feed ladies…

    1. Make sure you wear a blanket over your head when you eat too, to be modest and considerate to the rest of us. Seriously,what did you expect to see on an article about breastfeeding?!?!

    2. You type of people disgust me. Should we go 1 step further and feed them in the washroom just for you? Why don’t you try eating a meal with a freaking blanket over your face or in the stall of a washroom you don’t HAVE to watch us feed our children look away. People like you are the reason not more of us breastfeed or feel comfortable breastfeeding. I spent my first 6 months plastered to my couch cuz I was too scared to be criticized for feeding my child and get discouraged out of doing Wut was best for my child.

  7. Wow this has a Ton of information! I had a Ton of problems getting started with my oldest and we both cried sometimes. But after my milk came in on day 5 we both got over it and it was the best experience! Besides the thrush which me and the new baby got as well! It is extremely painful and anyone who gets this will have to breath after one day of medicine it will start to feel better! Just remember it is for your sweet bundle of joy! I didn’t know 2 years was recommended, the oldest weaned herself at 11 months. And we only lasted that long because i ignored well the people who thought out was weird and tried to convince me to switch to bottles. Which i am glad i didn’t since she had milk problems!

  8. Great article! FYI, they have recently debunked the foremilk/hind milk piece. Milk can change with the feeding but it isn’t automatically denser at the end of the feeding – it may be at the beginning.

    1. I don’t know who “They” are but it’s a well know fact that cows give the creamiest milk towards the end of the milking. If you’ve ever milked a cow by hand you can see that for yourself. It stands to reason that if cows and other creatures have colostrum, foremilk, and hindmilk that people would too.

  9. Breastfeeding was painful and hard for the first month. I wish I had prepared more ahead of time. Stick with it !!! It gets much easier, and you’ll come to treasure the bonding time

  10. This is an interesting list. Breast milk is clearly best for your child.

    Bottle fed babies also turn out fine, in case you don’t get on with breastfeeding.

    And more importantly, in untreated HIV positive women breastfeeding doubles your chances of passing HIV into your child. The remark about HIV needs modification or some kind of caveat. Anything else is irresponsible.

  11. Breastfeeding is best.

    But can I juat refute the point about HIV? Breastfeeding doubles your chances of passing HIV onto your baby. This changes if your HIV is well managed but let’s be clear: the point about HIV in this list is dangerously misleading.

  12. Great article! I’m forwarding it to my pregnant friends!
    I’d also add (perhaps under point #2) that if you can’t be skin to skin for long or are separated from your baby immediately after birth for whatever reason, educate yourself on the numerous things you can do to keep your milk production on track. (I so wish I had been educated on this!)

    Thanks again for this informative article!

  13. As a mom with 5 children (youngest just turned 9 weeks yesterday!), I can tell you some of us exclusively pump because WE CAN’T ACTUALLY NURSE. I have a huge oversupply naturally. This causes my son to choke, spit-up, a lot (only when he nurses), have foremilk/ hindmilk imbalance, and the worst…bleeding & scabbed over nipples. (This is caused not by the latch, but by the fact that my multiple letdowns are so forceful, my babies have all bit down HARD and stay that way through a feeding. It’s like crimping a straw to make the flow slow down.)

    I have tried to EBF all my babies, starting with my 1st. After weeks of pain and weight loss for him, I was told to formula feed. I knew nothing about exclusively pumping until I pregnant with my daughter. I tried BFing and had the same previous issues. I pumped for her for 7 months and she had my milk for a year. My next son, same problems. I pumped for him for 3 months and he had enough milk for more than a year. (Seriously, I would pump 4 times a day and get 90 ounces a day…MAJOR OVER SUPPLY.)

    My huge supply wrecked my breasts. I had an anchor lift where the nipple and ducts are severed. 4 years later, we were blessed with another son. Same issues with breast feeding. I pumped for him as well, but the surgery lessened my supply somewhat as some ducts never recovered. Our 5th child was born on August 18th. Same issues. I am still nursing him once or twice a day, but it’s more of a comfort feed than a full feeding. I keep hoping it will magically happen, but he still keeps clamping down on my nipples to where they are red, peeling, burning, and bruised. The lactation consultants I had seen all say the latch is good, by the way. So, I know pump for him 4- 5 times a day between 55-63 ounces.

    Why am I telling you this? I still bonded with all my babies just fine. They still receive my antibodies. We still snuggle and have skin-to-skin time. He still receives the best food for him, just now his dad, brothers, and sisters can feed him – which they love! Don’t hate on people because they aren’t actually nursing. Trust me, all of us that epump are doing a lot more work and trying harder than any nursing mother AND NOT BY CHOICE. Did I want to exclusively breastfeed…OF COURSE. Would it have been easier to just give my babies formula, yes. Would they have been fine? Yep. I chose this to do the best I possibly could to give my children the best start in life. Basically, don be a hater to those who aren’t actually nursing.

    1. I’m sorry you feel that we were “hating” on pumping. I wasn’t hating I was merely stating facts about the differences between straight from “the tap” and exclusively pumping. Because peach tried to say they were both the same and it was unnecessary to nurse and every1 should just pump instead . Yes they are both very healthy and kudos for being able to pump and still give your baby breastmilk.

    2. I find all this research facinating but as a working mother am increasingly dismayed to see it adding another player to the mommy wars. The EBF Snob. Her milk has all the latest antibodies, her body is more in tune. Too bad some of us pump part or full time, otherwise we could give our babies the very best too. Tsk tsk. /sarc

    1. In many parts of the world, mothers may not have access to clean, safe water. When these mothers use formula either by choice or otherwise (lack of education on this issue, for example), babies can become ill and die from water born diseases. Breast milk is much safer for these women and children.

  14. I really can say I love breastfeeding …my little girl, She is 4 years old already, and still breast every day. She always healthy and happy to be near to me. I believe the breastfeeding is the most beatiful feeling that a Mom should be. 🙂

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