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10 mind-boggling facts about breast milk
Breast milk is more than just baby food. You can also use it as nose drops. Or as a cleaning agent. And you can even have it made into a piece of jewellery.
Breast milk is considered the practical, healthy and best option for newborns. That’s why it’s often referred to as the baby’s first vaccine or liquid gold. But breast milk can do a lot more – and not just for the baby. The bottom line? Breast milk works wonders! Here are its further uses and more mind-blowing facts.
1. Picker-upper and sleep aid in one
The breast milk you feed your baby for breakfast isn’t the same as the breast milk you feed them for dinner. A team of Spanish researchers found that the concentration of biomolecules changes throughout the day. The highest concentration of sleep-promoting biomolecules was measured in the evening. On the other hand, biomolecules that have a stimulating effect had the highest concentration during the day. Breast milk is the baby’s first clock, so to speak, teaching them the difference between day and night. As a consequence, if you feed your baby pumped breast milk, it’s important that you give it to them at the same time of day it was pumped.
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2. Boys get a higher amount of fat
Breast milk also adapts to your baby’s sex – in quantity as well as in composition. Girls get more milk, while boys’ milk is richer in fat, protein and energy. It’s not entirely clear why this is. As US biologist Katie Hinde explained at a scientific conference in Chicago in 2014, there are still many unanswered questions about how breast milk is personalised. In rhesus monkeys, for example, milk produced for females contains more calcium so that they develop faster and become sexually mature earlier. In males, however, there’s no need for this because their ability to reproduce doesn’t have an age limit. On the other hand, their milk contains more calories because they spend more time horsing around.
3. The main ingredient: water
Breast milk largely consists of water – 88 per cent, to be exact. That’s why it also makes for a good thirst quencher. It’s the remaining 12 per cent that make it a miracle cocktail thanks to carbohydrates, fats, proteins and other important nutrients.
4. For premature babies: colostrum
Women start producing milk as early as in the second half of pregnancy. This ensures your baby will have a food supply in the event of a premature birth. This first milk is called colostrum, which is particularly rich in nutrients.
5. Combats sniffles and rusty bicycles
Breast milk has antibacterial, antiviral and anti-inflammatory properties, which is why many midwives recommend using it if your infant has the sniffles. It’s best to use freshly pumped milk with an eyedropper or to get it directly from the breast and drip into your baby’s nostrils. Breast milk also serves as a disinfectant, for example, if your baby’s bum is red or your nipples are sore from nursing. You can also add it to your baby’s bathwater (or your own) to help with dry skin or use it as a balm for chapped lips. It even works as a natural cleaning agent. For example, you can use it to remove burnt food residues from your stovetop or rust from your bike.
6. Breast milk can be donated
Some mothers are practically swimming in breast milk, while others produce little or none. You can donate surplus milk anonymously during the first six months after birth. And, in Switzerland, there are mothers’ milk banks (linked page in German) in Aarau, Basel, Bern, Chur, Lucerne and St. Gallen. This breast milk is pasteurised and given to babies desperately in need of it, that is, premature or sick infants.
7. Babies are little milking machines
Strictly speaking, the child doesn’t simply suck on the mother’s breast, they more so milk it. Using a wave motion of the tongue, they push the milk from the milk ducts to the nipple and into their mouth. More on that in this video:
8. Breast milk reduces overweight
According to multiple studies (link in German), breastfeeding reduces the risk of childhood obesity. One possible reason for this is that a breastfed baby will typically determine how much they drink themselves and stop when full. Bottle-fed infants, on the other hand, are more likely to be encouraged to finish their bottle. Drinking from a bottle is also less strenuous than drinking from the breast. An American team of researchers also found that adiponectin, a protein found in breast milk, has a positive effect on children’s metabolisms.
9. Breast milk jewellery
To have a special memento of your breastfeeding days, you can have a piece of jewellery made from your breast milk. By now, there are a few jewellery studios that offer this option – here’s one of them. Only a small amount of milk is needed and processed (about 15 millilitres.) And no need to worry, the milk doesn’t go bad in the process. Breast milk can easily survive several hours or days unrefrigerated – not as baby food, mind you, but until further processing into a necklace, earrings or ring.
10. When in Rome, do as the Romans do!
In Mongolia, breastfeeding is very much celebrated. Correspondingly, women there breastfeed for a long time, about two to three years. In the USA, the Right to Breastfeed Act has been in force since 1999, guaranteeing the right to breastfeed your child anywhere. In the United Arab Emirates, there’s a different law: compulsory breastfeeding. Mothers are required to breastfeed their babies for at least two years. In Congo, dads are also allowed to breastfeed. Of course, no milk is actually formed in the process. The ritual is simply meant to strengthen the bond between father and child.
Equally sophisticated is a baby’s umbilical cord. For fascinating facts on it and the scar it leaves behind, i.e. the belly button, check out the following article: